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Clarence Avant, the mysterious ‘Black Godfather’ who redefined the black entertainment industry

June 10, 2019 at 12:00 pm | Entertainment

Etsey Atisu

Etsey Atisu | Staff Writer

June 10, 2019 at 12:00 pm | Entertainment

Clarence Avant with hip-hop stars at Roc Nation's Pre-Grammy Brunch -- Photo Credit: HITS Daily Double

Most powerful, renowned and most elusive. These three phrases, at complete variance from each other, describe the clout of the man he is.

Clarence Avant is described by Barack Obama, the first black president of America, as “the bridge from a time where there was no opportunity to a time when doors began to open.” 

Clarence Avant (L) with former U.S President, Bill Clinton and BET President Deborah Lee (R) in 2006. [Photo via Newscom]

Jamie Foxx says of him, “An African-American man anyone can call concerning anything – that takes a lot, and for a man who opens his house, heart and his mind up to you, a man who sees something special in you and helps you go for it. You seldom see people in today’s world who look for the best in people but Clarence Avant is a man who you can call on the phone, get a real voice and get a real knowledge on something.”

An integral part of entertainment in America, Ludacris summarizes Avant’s life as a person who believes that “The bigger we are together, the bigger we will be as a culture.”

Photo: Billboard

Born February 25, 1931, Clarence Avant began a business in music in the 1950s as a manager of Teddy P’s Lounge in Newark, New Jersey, owned and promoted by Teddy Powell.   

The 88-year-old who grew up in a tiny town in North Carolina before moving to New York. He started as the manager of pianist-composer Lalo Schifrin and later founded two independent record labels in L.A. that were short-lived – Sussex Records and Tabu.

He developed his career after he moved to New York where he worked under music manager Joe Glaser. Avant has served as a concert organizer and produced special events including fund-raisers for Democratic politicians while serving as a mentor to African American executives in the entertainment industry.

Avant established himself as the person those in the spotlight could turn to and he helped many of them – folks like Hank Aaron and the late Soul Train host Don Cornelius to David Geffen and former President Bill Clinton. He helped them all without inserting himself into the glitz and glam of Hollywood—an aspect Avant prided himself on.

“Sometimes real power is behind the scenes, helping people achieve their dreams,” Nicole Avant, Clarence Avant’s daughter and producer of The Black Godfather, told The Hollywood Reporter

Clarence Avant with hip-hop stars at Roc Nation’s Pre-Grammy Brunch — Photo Credit: HITS Daily Double

According to BET, prominent people such as Clarence Avant, Little Willie John and Sarah Vaughan, Venture Records, Ja’Net Dubois, Stax Records, Sussex Records, Bill Withers, Dennis Coffey, Avant Garde Broadcasting, The S.O.S Band among others, are some of the big names he has influenced.

Black entertainers, as well as renowned politicians, agree that Avant is a successful powerhouse of many giant things that have happened in their careers, and even so, in the way Blacks have been viewed publicly throughout the decades.

In fact, he is so influential that if you expect to have a career as an entertainer and you don’t know his name, you certainly will eventually.

Photo by Earl Gibson III/ASCAP

Reginald Hudlin, who directed a Netflix titled, The Black Godfather, after years of trying to get the man who has always loved to rather stay in the background but has had so much impact in the Black community, says of him, “Clarence Avant has been one of those guys who have been shaping black public culture for fifty years but you never heard of him. He’s been behind the scenes making things happen. Most of your favourite hit records are because of Clarence; some of your political leaders who made it, behind them is Clarence.”

CREDIT: JOHN SALANGSANG/SHUTTERSTOCK

Avant is essentially responsible for the rise of the Black American culture within various imprints of entertainment, from music to TV, film and sports. It was his counseling and business savvy tactics that redefined entertainment for people of color long before they had a voice in the industry, and he remains a figure that Hollywood’s elite continues to lean on for sound advice and mentorship. His influence hasn’t just aided in the entertainment realm—even political leaders have turned to Avant for guidance.

Avant is highly regarded for launching the careers of many and helping white corporations like MGM and ABC learn how to deal and make room for black American culture, and he’s managed to do it all while remaining completely behind the scenes.

Netflix describes the documentary as:

The Black Godfather charts the exceptional and unlikely rise of Avant, a music executive whose trailblazing behind-the-scenes accomplishments impacted the legacies of icons such as as Bill Withers, Quincy Jones, Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron, and Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Driven by a sense of equality, loyalty, and justice, Avant left the Jim Crow south behind to emerge as a powerhouse negotiator at a time when deep-seated racism penetrated every corner of America. Avant defied notions of what a black executive could do, redefining the industry for entertainers and executives of color, and leaving a legacy of altruism for others to emulate.

Directed by Academy Award nominee Reginald Hudlin and featuring interviews with Snoop Dogg, P. Diddy, Lionel Richie, Suzanne de Passe, David Geffen, Jerry Moss, Cicely Tyson, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and Jamie Foxx, among others, The Black Godfather pulls the curtain back on the maestro himself, projecting a spotlight on the man who’s spent his entire career ensuring that it shined on others.

With a career as legendary as Avant’s, viewers of the Netflix documentary, which premiered on June 7, 2019, saw a number of interviews from figures of similar status.

Along with Avant’s family—wife Jacqueline Avant and children Nicole and Alex Avant—the documentary includes commentary from industry leaders like Quincy Jones, Clive Davis, Berry Gordy, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Bill Withers, Jesse Jackson, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Kamala Harris, Jamie Foxx, Snoop Dogg, Sean Combs, Jon Platt, Jerry Moss, Andrew Young, Lucian Grainge, Nelson George, Jim Brown, Hank Aaron and David Geffen.

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