Clarence Avant, trailblazing record executive known as 'The Black Godfather,' dies at 92

Avant signed Bill Withers to his first record deal.

ByJamia Pugh
August 14, 2023, 2:38 PM

Clarence Avant, the beloved music executive who came to be known as "The Black Godfather," has died at the age of 92, his family confirmed to ABC News.

"It is with a heavy heart that the Avant/Sarandos family announce the passing of Clarence Alexander Avant. Through his revolutionary business leadership, Clarence became affectionately known as 'The Black Godfather' in the worlds of music, entertainment, politics, and sports," his children, Nicole and Alex Avant, and son-in-law Ted Sarandos said in a statement.

"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," the statement continues. "The joy of his legacy eases the sorrow of our loss. Clarence passed away gently at home in Los Angeles on Sunday, August 13, 2023. He was 92."

Early in his career, the North Carolina native managed successful acts such as Sarah Vaughan, Little Willie John, Freddie Hubbard and Jimmy Smith. His dealmaking abilities soon earned the attention of legendary label executive Quincy Jones, who said that after the two met, they went on to become "best friends and brothers."

In the late '60s, Avant helped to broker the sale of Stax records and in 1969, founded his own label, Sussex Records, where he signed "Ain't No Sunshine" singer and eventual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Bill Withers to his first record deal. In the '70s, Avant founded KAGB-FM, one of the first Black-owned radio stations in Los Angeles.

Avant's life work includes his contributions to the careers of notable Black figures like boxing legend Muhammad Ali, NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown, and baseball greats Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron. "Without Clarence Avant, there is no Hank Aaron," Aaron later declared in the Netflix documentary, "The Black Godfather."

PHOTO: Clarence Avant attends Netflix world premiere of "The Black Godfather" at the Paramount Theater on June 03, 2019 in Los Angeles.
Clarence Avant attends Netflix world premiere of "The Black Godfather" at the Paramount Theater on June 03, 2019 in Los Angeles.
Charley Gallay/Getty Images

Avant's contributions to music earned him numerous accolades, including the Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAACP in 2007 and the Recording Academy's Trustees Award in 2008.

Avant's wife, Jacqueline Avant, 81, was killed in a 2021 home invasion at the couple's Los Angeles residence. The couple had been married for 54 years.

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