Clarence Avant, known as the Godfather of Black Music, has died aged 92.
Avant died at home in Los Angeles on Sunday (August 13). In 2021, his wife, Jacqueline, was shot and killed during a home invasion in their Beverly Hills home.
"Clarence leaves behind a loving family and a sea of friends and associates that have changed the world and will continue to change the world for generations to come," said the family statement. "The joy of his legacy eases the sorrow of our loss."
Avant began his career as a manager in Teddy P’s Lounge in Newark during the 1950s. He went on to work with Sarah Vaughn, Freda Payne, Jimmy Smith and Lalo Schifrin.
As a music manager in the 1970s, Avant discovered and signed Bill Withers. He also founded KAGB-FM (Avant Garde Broadcasting), one of the first Black-owned US radio stations.
Avant launched record labels Sussex and Tabu, whose rosters included Bill Withers, the SOS Band and Dennis Coffey.
He became Motown chairman in 1993 following its sale to PolyGram. He went on to serve on the international management board for PolyGram, the first African-American to do so.
We have lost an incomparable visionary whose brilliance, humour, irreverence, and love made the world a better place
Sir Lucian Grainge
“Clarence Avant’s extraordinary musical legacy has been felt for decades and will be felt for decades to come,” said Sir Lucian Grainge, UMG CEO & chairman. “He will be remembered as both a brilliant catalyst and protector of culture. His understated yet powerful influence transcended music, spanning the worlds of entertainment, sports and politics. I am profoundly grateful for his friendship and mentorship. We have lost an incomparable visionary whose brilliance, humour, irreverence, and love made the world a better place.
“On behalf of everyone at UMG, we offer our deepest condolences to Nicole, Ted and Alex and to their entire family.”
An industry figure for more than 50 years, Avant later worked on the management side with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Kenneth "Babyface Edmonds," and L.A. Reid.
Tributes have flooded in from fellow executives, as well as former US president Bill Clinton and basketball star Magic Johnson.
“It is difficult to process the loss of Clarence Avant," said John Platt, CEO & chairman of Sony Music Publishing. "Clarence was an ally and mentor to me and many others who followed the trail he blazed. As one of the leading architects of the Black entertainment business, he expanded opportunities for executives of colour and supported us along our journey. Clarence Avant positively impacted my life the moment he walked into it, filling a void that I did not know existed. Clarence is the closest person to a father that I ever had. He often would say, 'Life is about numbers...you're born with a number, and you leave earth with a number...' And he was right, but what Clarence also showed me is life is about the number of lives you impact while you are here. I am forever grateful for Clarence's tough love and encouragement. I am also thankful to Mrs. Avant, Nicole, Alex, and Ted for sharing Clarence with all of us.”
“There are no words that can fully capture Clarence Avant’s influence," said UMPG chairman & CEO Jody Gerson. "He was a legend - a pioneering force in music, devoted champion for Black artists, cultural trailblazer and powerful voice for humanitarian efforts. Clarence’s legacy will live on through the many artists, songwriters, producers, executives and friends he mentored and supported. All of us at UMPG send our deepest condolences to his family and all who knew and loved him.”
Avant was recognised as the 2019 Grammy Salute To Industry Icons honoree for his groundbreaking contributions to the music industry.
He also received a Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award, an NAACP Image Awards Hall Of Fame Award, a BET Honors Entrepreneur Award, and more. In 2008, the Recording Academy awarded Avant its Trustees Award.
PHOTO: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for the Recording Academy