Clarence Avant saluted by Obamas, Clintons, Questlove: ‘Skillful, savvy, warm, and wise’

Clarence Avant stands in front of a backdrop that says 'The Black Godfather'
Influential dealmaker Clarence Avant, the producer and philanthropist known as “the Godfather of Black Entertainment,” died Sunday.
(Mark Von Holden / Invision/Associated Press)

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, past U.S. presidents, 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.


Clarence Avant was a behind-the-scenes titan of managing, deal making and problem solving across the full spectrum of Black entertainment.

Aug. 14, 2023

“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.”

Former President Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, called Avant one of their “favorite people” and said they were grateful for his “wise counsel” and friendship.

“He exemplified a certain level of cool and street smarts that allowed him to move confidently into worlds that nobody had prepared him for, never doubting he could figure it out,” the Obamas said in a statement.

“Clarence was part of a generation that served as a bridge from a time when there was very little opportunity for Black people to a time when doors began to open. He demanded the world make room, and he paved the way for the rest of us.”


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.”

Singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez had toiled in obscurity until the Oscar-winning 2012 documentary ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ brought him acclaim.

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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.

Lucian Grainge, chairman and chief executive of Universal Music Group, said the “incomparable visionary” would be remembered “as both a brilliant catalyst and protector of culture. His understated yet powerful influence transcended music, spanning the worlds of entertainment, sports and politics. I am profoundly grateful for his friendship and mentorship.”

The man who murdered philanthropist Jacqueline Avant during a burglary at her Beverly Hills home is sentenced to more than 150 years in prison.

April 19, 2022

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.”


Jacqueline Avant, L.A. philanthropist and wife of music producer Clarence Avant, is fatally shot during an apparent home invasion robbery.

Dec. 1, 2021

In a statement to The Times, 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.”

“With the passing of Clarence Avant the world has lost an icon, his family has lost their patriarch, and I lost a dear friend,” Motown Records co-founder Berry Gordy said in a statement to The Times. “Clarence earned his reputation as the Black Godfather for good reason. People, especially musicians and artists, went to him when they were in trouble and one way or another, he would fix the problem.

“Clarence was continuously engaged in the things that made a difference. He loved politics and was very involved with many charities,” he said. “Our Black Godfather may be gone — but he will never be forgotten.”

In a lengthy statement, musician and designer Pharrell Williams said that Avant was “a visionary and a transcendent spirit” who was not only a “Godfather to the Black dream” but also “a Godfather to the American dream.”

“He is the ultimate example of what change looks like, what architecting change looks like, and what the success of change looks like. He stared adversity in the face in climates and conditions that weren’t welcoming to people that looked like him. But through his talent and relentless spirit in the pursuit to be the best of the best, he garnered the support and friendship of people who otherwise wouldn’t look in our direction,” he wrote in an Instagram story. “He showed them what we can be, what we can do, and how much more we can all achieve if you give us opportunity.”


He added: “It’s my hope and wish that others will see what he’s done and try to go even further, because that’s what he wanted and that’s why he did what he did. He wanted to inspire. While running an extraordinary race in his lifetime, he passed the baton to us. The question now is how we’re going to honor him and what we will we do with the baton. I give honor to GOD, my savior, and I give honor to his family, friends, and the countless people who have been impacted by his presence and time on this planet.”

Diddy called Avant an “irreplaceable force in the music industry,” describing him as a mentor and personal friend “whose influence is unparalleled.”

“His visionary approach and unwavering dedication broke barriers for black artists, propelling them to new heights. As we honor this trailblazer, we are reminded of his enduring legacy that continues to live on, inspiring a generation of artists and shaping the industry,” he said in a statement to Billboard.

Quincy Jones told Billboard, “There will never be enough words to express how much Clarence Avant meant” to him: “He was my dearest friend, my brother, my confidant, my mentor, and my counsel for more than 60 years. Clarence always told me the truth in every aspect of my life, even when he knew I didn’t want to hear it…and in this business we all know what a rarity that is. There will never be another like Clarence Avant, and I will miss his presence every day.”

NBA legend Magic Johnson also remembered Avant as a “great friend” whose “accomplishments speak for themselves.”

“As a former music manager, he founded two record labels and purchased the first fully black-owned radio station,” he tweeted. “He consulted many major studios in the 1970s and advised Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama. He also served as chairman of the board at Motown Records, promoted Michael Jackson’s BAD tour and is responsible for discovering many of the most incredible music artists we know today.”


Avant, who served as a board member for the Legal Defense Fund from 1982 to 2004 and as director and director emeritus since 2005, also was commemorated by the civil rights law organization.

“We mourn the loss of Clarence Avant, who for decades made giant contributions to American culture, music and politics,” LDF President and Director-Counsel Janai S. Nelson said. “He most certainly will go down in history as someone who quietly, yet powerfully, improved the lives of millions of Black people who likely never heard of him.

“Whenever the LDF asked Mr. Avant for help, whether it was to make a connection, raise money, or to use his clout to advance an important civil rights issue, Clarence Avant answered that call and more,” she added. “We grieve this loss keenly and send his many loved ones our condolences.”

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.”