According to a statement released on Monday by his son Alex Avant, daughter Nicole Avant, and son-in-law Ted Sarandos, Avant passed away at his Los Angeles home.
The family of Clarence Alexander Avant remarked, “It is with a heavy heart that the Avant/Sarandos family announce the passing of Clarence Alexander Avant.” In the fields of music, entertainment, politics, and sports, Clarence earned the nickname “The Black Godfather” thanks to his innovative corporate leadership.
Avant’s family continued, “Clarence leaves behind a devoted family as well as a large network of friends and colleagues who have impacted the world and will do so for many years to come. The joy of his legacy eases the sorrow of our loss.”
After relocating to Los Angeles in the late 1960s, Avant, a native of North Carolina, rose to prominence in the entertainment industry. In 1969, he established Sussex Records in that location, signing soul singer Bill Withers and guitarist Sixto Rodriguez, who both went on to have success with singles like “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Use Me,” and “Lean on Me” while under the label’s management.
Avant began his career in New Jersey managing nightclubs before switching to artist representation. Little Willie John, Sarah Vaughan, and rock production pioneer Tom Wilson, who later oversaw the work of Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground, were among the R&B and jazz musicians on his list.
Avant’s first foray into steering a record label came in 1967 with Venture Records, originally founded as an outlet for the soul recording artists on MGM Records. Venture Records lasted only two years, but Avant was ready to jump to his next assignment: helping to broker the sale of legendary Stax Records, which he did in 1968, before founding Sussex Records. Sussex, however, folded in 1975 after the IRS auctioned off the company’s assets due to $48,000 in federal tax liens.
The music executive also purchased KAGB-FM, which made it the first Black-owned FM radio station in Los Angeles.
Avant is credited with advancing the careers of L.A. Reid, Babyface, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and more. His influence in the music industry propelled artists in Motown and jazz and influenced the early days of hip-hop.
His reach extended beyond music as Avant was active in film producing (“Save the Children” in 1973) and politics (he raised more than a million dollars for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign).