Clarence Avant, the influential music industry veteran and record producer known as “the Black Godfather,” was saluted Monday as a savvy dealmaker whose wisdom and compassion influenced generations of musicians — and politicians.
Avant died Sunday at age 92, and as word of his death spread, a past U.S. president, luminaries and contemporaries paid their respects.
Former President Bill Clinton and former secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid their respects in a statement posted on X, commemorating the friend and fundraiser who helped Bill Clinton secure his position as commander in chief in the 1990s.
“He also used his success to open doors of opportunity to new generations of entrepreneurs and promoters. He was skillful, savvy, warm, and wise. It was impossible to spend time with Clarence Avant and not come away feeling more positive and wanting to follow his example. Hillary and I just loved him.
“We give thanks for his long, good life and our decades of friendship, and we’re grateful that his legacy will endure — in the music he helped bring into the world, and in all those who were touched by his compassion, mentorship, and generosity.”
Roc Nation, the entertainment giant co-founded by rapper Jay-Z, described Avant as “our cultural Godfather” in a statement posted on X.
“Throughout his life, he burst through doors and tore down ceilings, changing lives and providing opportunities for generations. A true pioneer, a mentor and a champion, Clarence Avant is and always will be a giant among us,” the company wrote, sharing photos of Avant alongside Jay-Z, Diddy, Sony Music Chairman Jon Platt and other industry leaders.
“I think in the present we SAY that achievements & reward$ are what will make us happy. But man if I can impact like 1/10th of the lives Clarence Avant did then my life on this plane wasn’t in vain,” musician and “Summer of Soul” filmmaker Questlove wrote on Instagram.
“I mean watch The Black Godfather if you need a refresher on WHY he was one of the most impactful humans in the 20th/21st century,” the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker added. “my first Idol: Bill Withers came as a courtesy thru him — I mean who sees gold in a 40 yr old everydayman whose 1st lp cover was really him taking a lunch break from his airplane toilet installer — Clarence did. Who gave Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis the keys to the kingdom after Prince tried to bet the farm they’d be nobodies after he fired em? — Clarence.
“I mean we can go on: I didn’t know Obama’s presidency started with Clarence! A human so impactful that the impacted started impacting future impactors. This is what life is about,” he wrote. “An exemplary life. Rest in power and thank you to Clarence Avant.”
Rapper T.I. said he couldn’t believe the news of Avant’s death when he woke up Monday: “RIP to The Black Godfather Clarence Avant, thank you for all the wisdom you’ve shared and the path you paved for artists like myself,” he wrote on Instagram.
“Thank you Mr. Avant for proudly and fully making space for us to dream big,” read a tweet on BET’s X account.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson memorialized the pioneer as “the go-to guy for many of us in the music industry,” including Berry Gordy of Motown Records and Al Bell of Stax Records.
“He helped promote their careers and expand their businesses,” Jackson wrote in a tweet, also noting Avant’s discovery of Withers. “He was a great friend and I admired him greatly. What a mighty tree. My wife Jackie &our family send our sincere &fervent prayers to Nicole&Alexander. Rest in heavenly peace.”
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said that Avant leaves a legacy “that will inspire music and culture forever,” noting his lasting signature on the City of Angels, as well as that of his late wife, Jacqueline Avant, who was slain in her home in December 2021.
“Mr. Avant gave so much to Los Angeles — producing a sound that influenced generations while ceaselessly fighting for civil rights and equal treatment under the law,” she said in a statement. “I had the great fortune to have been able to engage Mr. Avant in insightful and valuable conversations about the top issues that our city and nation were facing and I will always be grateful for the time we shared. Mr. and Mrs. Avant changed Los Angeles with their vision, their spirit and their philanthropy. My thoughts are with the Avant family and all who mourn this massive loss.”
In a statement to Variety, famed record producer Clive Davis wrote that Avant “was truly one of a kind.”
“His passing is a great loss of someone who is irreplaceable. [Clarence’s] extraordinary contribution to music and the barriers he broke throughout his career are unrivaled. He was the mentor to all Black executives in the music industry for decades, providing invaluable guidance and support while always standing up for equal rights. Clarence was humane and fair and inspired love and respect from all who knew him. I personally loved him and will miss him forever.”
Avant is survived by his son, Alex Avant, and daughter, Nicole Avant — film producer and former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas — and her husband, Netflix co-chief executive and chief content officer Ted Sarandos. The family announced the patriarch’s death on Monday.
“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,” they said in a statement to The Times. “The joy of his legacy eases the sorrow of our loss.”