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Clarence Avant, Influential Music Exec Known as ‘The Black Godfather,’ Dead at 92

Veteran label head lauded for his influence and guidance of careers of Quincy Jones, Pharrell Williams, Snoop Dogg, Whitney Houston, and more

Clarence Avant, the veteran music and entertainment executive known as the “Black Godfather” who was hailed for his influence and guidance by Quincy Jones, Pharrell Williams, Snoop Dogg, Whitney Houston, and more, died at home in Los Angeles on Sunday. He was 92.

Avant’s death was announced Monday through a statement shared by his family. “It is with a heavy heart that the Avant/Sarandos family announce the passing of Clarence Alexander Avant,” the statement read. “Through his revolutionary business leadership, Clarence became affectionately known as “The Black Godfather” in the worlds of music, entertainment, politics, and sports.”

Avant’s presence in the music industry dates back to the 1950s, when he managed the likes of Sarah Vaughan and Little Willie John. Early in his career, the executive was mentored by longtime Louis Armstrong manager Joe Glaser. Avant pushed the boundaries of what Black executives could accomplish across industries still deeply plagued with racism. He became a powerhouse at Venture and Sussex Records, where he signed Bill Withers, but also helmed a broadcast company and produced the Paramount Pictures film Save the Children, released in 1973.

In 2019, ahead of his appearance in the Netflix documentary The Black Godfather, Pharrell Williams paid tribute to the figurehead, sharing in a statement: “Clarence Avant connects us all through his incredible impact since before I was born up until now. He’s the godfather to so many of us – and not just African Americans, most of the industry.”


In their statement on his death, his family Nicole Avant, Ted Sarandos, and Alex Avant continued: “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 joy of his legacy eases the sorrow of our loss.”

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