Clarence Avant
Birth nameClarence Alexander Avant
Born (1931-02-25) February 25, 1931 (age 91)
Climax, North Carolina, U.S.
LabelsVenture Records Inc.
Sussex Records
Tabu Records
Motown Records
Jacqueline "Jackie" Alberta Gray
(m. 1967⁠–⁠2021)

Clarence Alexander Avant (born February 25, 1931) is an American music executive, entrepreneur, and film producer, who also went by the name of "The Black Godfather".[1][2][3]

Avant's 75th birthday was celebrated by Billboard in its February 2006 issue.[4]


Early career

Clarence Alexander Avant was born in Climax, North Carolina; he was the oldest of eight children. He attended a one-room school in Greensboro, NC until the ninth grade. He spent his freshman and second years of high school at Dudley High School in Greensboro before moving to New Jersey in 1947 as a teenager.[5] In New Jersey, Avant worked as a stock clerk at Macy's and for a law directory. He began in the music business in the 1950s as a manager of Teddy P's Lounge in Newark, New Jersey, owned by promoter Teddy Powell.[6]

Joseph G. "Joe" Glaser (December 17, 1896 – June 6, 1969), music manager of Louis Armstrong from 1935 until his death in 1969, and the original proprietor of Sunset Gardens on the South Side of Chicago, mentored Avant. Glaser founded Consolidated Booking Corporation and Associated Booking Corporation on November 26, 1943.[7][8]

Avant later managed R&B singer Little Willie John, jazz singers Sarah Vaughan, Kim Weston, Luiz Bonfa, Wynton Kelly, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Pat Thomas, rock and roll pioneer Tom Wilson, whom Avant partnered with in the Wilson Organization, jazz producer Creed Taylor, jazz musician Jimmy Smith and Argentine pianist-composer, Lalo Schifrin.[9][10] Avant incorporated Avant Garde Enterprises, Inc. on November 7, 1962, in New York, the same month that Smith became a client of Associated Booking, and originally had offices at 850 Seventh Avenue.[11] Schifrin and Smith collaborated to make The Cat, released by Verve Records on April 27, 1964.[citation needed] Avant opened a West Coast office in September 1964 to accommodate the growing motion picture soundtrack assignments offered to his clients.[12] During his years in New York, Avant served as an adviser, board member, and executive of the National Association of Radio Announcers (NARA), later the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers (NATRA), and also as a consultant to PlayTape, a two track tape cartridge system developed by Frank Stanton, and first marketed by MGM Records [13] On September 27, 1966, Avant incorporated Sussex Productions, Inc. in New York, an independent record production firm with artists Four Hi's, Johnny Nash, Terry Bryant, Billy Woods, and the Judge and the Jury.[14]

Venture Records Inc.

On October 2, 1967, Venture Records Inc. was incorporated in California, a company for which Avant successfully engineered the first joint venture between an African American artist and a major record company. Founded as an outlet for the soul acts of MGM Records, Venture Records Inc. was run by former Motown songwriter, record producer, and A&R department head William "Mickey" Stevenson.[15] Negotiated for Stevenson by Los Angeles attorney Abraham Somer, the label had offices at 8350 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.[16]

Avant moved from Manhattan to Beverly Hills to work with Venture Records Inc. in the Fall of 1967, doing so until 1969 when MGM Records shut down the label and joint venture. During this time, record producer, songwriter, and executive Al Bell enlisted the aid of Avant, whom he had met through the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers (NATRA), to sell Stax Records to Gulf+Western. The deal was finalized on May 29, 1968, for $4.3 million, with Avant receiving ten percent of all debentures.[17]

In August 1969, Avant became the associate producer, along with Al Bell, of Douglas Turner Ward's The Reckoning (a surreal Southern Fable), presented in co-operation with The Negro Ensemble Company at St. Mark's Playhouse in New York.[18] The Reckoning started the off-Broadway season, starring Jeannette DuBois, later Ja'net Dubois of Good Times fame.[19]

Sussex Records Inc.

After Venture Records Inc. folded, Avant remained in Los Angeles and founded Sussex Records on December 18, 1969. The company went out of business in June 1975, with the IRS seizing and auctioning off all assets because of $48,000 in federal tax liens.

The remaining furniture, office equipment, and recording masters (bought by CBS Records for $50,500) were auctioned in July 1975 at Sussex offices (6255 West Sunset Blvd, Hollywood). Avant signed singer, songwriter, and producer Bill Withers, guitarist Dennis Coffey, and soft rock band Gallery to Sussex Records, which was distributed from 1970 to 1974 by Buddah Records.[20]

Sussex Records was mentioned in the documentary Searching for Sugar Man. Interviewees in the documentary said in their interviews that they paid royalties from sales of Sixto Rodriguez' records to Sussex Records. It is strongly implied in the documentary that Sixto Rodriguez had been cheated out of the royalties.[21]

Avant Garde Broadcasting

Under Avant Garde Broadcasting, Inc., founded on August 6, 1971, Avant bought the first African-American owned FM radio station in metropolitan Los Angeles on March 3, 1973, from Trans America Broadcasting Corp, buying the license of KTYM-FM in Inglewood, California for $321,000, including actual facilities at 6803 West Boulevard in Inglewood, and FCC licensing fees, renaming it KAGB-FM.[22][23]

Using a $199,900 promissory note and stock purchase warrants from the Urban National Corporation of Boston, Massachusetts (a Venture Capital company founded in July 1971), Avant partnered with two investment bankers.[24]

Del Shields from the National Association of Radio and Television Announcers (NARTA) served as Executive Vice-president.

Management refused to accept all counsel or advice on how to run the station, despite never turning a profit. Ultimately, AVG was forced into bankruptcy by Urban National on November 20, 1975, when it defaulted on promissory notes and warrants of around $400,000. Avant lost about $611,168.67 in the bankruptcy, $71,500 from Interior Music Corporation advances between August 1973 and September 1974, and $13,887 from Sussex Records loans. Comedian Bill Cosby was an additional investor in Avant Garde Broadcasting, investing approx. $200,000 through his company SAH Enterprises.[25][26]

Save the Children

In September 1973, Paramount Pictures released Save the Children, with Avant serving as executive producer. Filmed at the Operation PUSH Black Expo in Chicago, the production mixed performances of top black entertainers with footage depicting blacks, especially children, in various conditions, including war-ravaged and malnourished refugees. The film premiered at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.[27]


On February 10, 2008, the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded him the Trustees Award.[citation needed]

On October 7, 2016, Avant received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions in the recording industry, located at 6363 Hollywood Boulevard, next to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis' star.[28][29]

In February 2018, Avant received the President's Merit Award as a Grammy Icon at the Clive Davis Pre Grammy Gala in Los Angeles.[30]

On May 12, 2021, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced that Avant received the Ahmet Ertegun award and will be inducted to the 2021 class.[31] Previous inductee Bill Withers, as well as Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Barack Obama spoke about Avant's impact in a video package.

Personal life

In 1967, Avant married Jacqueline "Jackie" Alberta Gray (born March 6, 1940, in Jamaica, Queens, New York). The couple had two children. Daughter Nicole Avant (born March 6, 1968) is a former United States Ambassador to the Bahamas, and wife of Ted Sarandos (an executive at Netflix). Son Alexander Du Bois Avant was born August 3, 1971.

Jackie Avant served as president of the Neighbors of Watts, the support group for the South Central Community Child Care Center in 1975, entertainment chairman of the NOW benefit auction and dinner dance, and chairwoman of NOW membership in 1974.[32][33] She was also on the board of directors of the International Student Center at UCLA.[33] She was shot and killed on December 1, 2021, at age 81, during a home invasion at the couple's residence in Beverly Hills, California.[34][35]


  1. ^ "Pioneering Exec Clarence Avant, the Master Mentor". December 6, 2007. Archived from the original on September 3, 2012. Retrieved December 5, 2010 – via Miami Herald. "When you get someone like Quincy Jones calling you the godfather of the industry, that's pretty big," [Andy] Kellman said.
  2. ^ Goldberg, Danny (2005). How the left lost teen spirit-- (and how they're getting it back). Akashic Books. p. 229. ISBN 978-0-9719206-8-2.
  3. ^ Daunt, Tina (August 17, 2007). "Black celebs are major players". L A Times August 2007. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  4. ^ "Industry Hero Gets Back to His Roots". May 2006. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  5. ^ "Music Industry Hero Gets Back To His Roots", Greensboro News and Record, May 21, 2006.
  6. ^ "Recalling Newark Night Life". Retrieved October 3, 2016.
  7. ^ Obituary, The New York Times, May 17, 1969, p. 33; "Joseph G. Glaser Is Dead at 72; Booking Agent For Many Stars", The New York Times, June 8, 1969, p. 92
  8. ^ "Satchmo Remembers the Big Magaffa", Los Angeles Times, June 22, 1969, p. G44.
  9. ^ "Billboard," April 6, 1963, p. 47.
  10. ^ Geracimos, A. (1968, September 29). A Record Producer Is A Psychoanalyst With Rhythm: A Psychoanalyst With Rhythm. New York Times, p. SM32.
  11. ^ "Bids fly high for Jimmy Smith," "Billboard", December 15, 1962, p. 5.
  12. ^ "Avant on Coast," "Billboard", September 19, 1964, p. 4.
  13. ^ "LP Clearance Wheels Turn," "Billboard", June 11, 1966, p. 1., "Avant Launches Sussex," "Billboard", November 12, 1966, p. 3., "PlayTape Girds for Mass Merchandising," "Billboard", July 1, 1967, p. WS-2.
  14. ^ "Avant Launches Sussex," "Billboard, November 12, 1966, p. 3.
  15. ^ California Secretary of State, Corporation Number: C0533792, Corporate Records, Department of Corporations, Status Report/Statement of Information, Status: Forfeited, Jurisdiction: Delaware.
  16. ^ "MGM, Mickey Stevenson Announce Venture Label", "Record World", October 7, 1967, p. 3.
  17. ^ Bowman, Rob, Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records, Music Sales Group (2003), pp. 142–43; ISBN 978-0-8256-7284-2
  18. ^ The New York Times, August 17, 1969, p. D2.
  19. ^ Kerr, Walter. "For People Who Want To Be Cured of the Theater at Once," The New York Times, August 31, 1969, p. D1
  20. ^ "Sussex Album Discography".
  21. ^ Michaels, Sean (May 6, 2014). "Rodriguez lawsuit aims to uncover cause of singer's missing royalties". The Guardian.
  22. ^ "Business Search - Business Entities - Business Programs". Archived from the original on April 2, 2010. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
  23. ^ Avant, Clarence (March 8, 1973). "Clarence Avant Buys Calif. Radio Station". Jet Magazine., "Avant Garde Gets FCC OK for KYTM-FM", "Radio World", p. 20.
  24. ^ "Urban National Corporation". Articles of Organization-7/20/1971. Domestic Profit Corporation. Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Corporations Division.[dead link]
  25. ^ "Bankruptcy Sale: Avant Garde Broadcasting, Inc. dba KAGB-FM, Bankrupt, Bankruptcy No. BK75-20840-BR.," Los Angeles Times, April 15, 1976, p. F1.
  26. ^ Avant, Clarence (October 21, 1976). "Former All-Pro Davis Buys Radio Station in Calif". 54. Retrieved October 3, 2016.
  27. ^ Weiler, A.H., "Stars Save The Children," The New York Times, September 19, 1973, p. 40
  28. ^ "Clarence Avant | Hollywood Walk of Fame". Retrieved October 29, 2016.
  29. ^ Mitchell, Gail (October 7, 2016). "Clarence Avant, 'Godfather of Black Music', Receives Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame". Billboard. Retrieved October 29, 2016.
  30. ^ Bjornson, Greta (January 25, 2019). "Clarence Avant to be Honored at Pre-GRAMMY Gala". Grammy Awards.
  31. ^ McLaughlin, Nancy (November 1, 2021). "Greensboro's Clarence Avant inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame".
  32. ^ (1975, August 11). Mrs. Avant New President of Child Care Support Group. "Los Angeles Times", p. E7.
  33. ^ a b Gindick, Tia (February 18, 1980), "Beverly Hills Hostess For African Dignitaries: Jackie Avant, Entrepreneur's Wife Is Involved and Active," Los Angeles Times, p. OC_C1.
  34. ^ Pizzello, Chris; Dalton, Andrew; Dazio, Stefanie (December 1, 2021). "Jacqueline Avant, wife of music legend, killed in shooting". Associated Press. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  35. ^ Bjornson, Greta (December 7, 2021). "Suspect Charged with Murder in Death of Philanthropist Jacqueline Avant, Wife of Music Exec Clarence Avant". People. Retrieved December 23, 2021.

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