who covers music, TV, and celebrity for Vulture

Photo: Lisa O’Connor/AFP via Getty Images

Clarence Avant, a music executive and film producer known as “the Black Godfather,” has died at age 92. Avant’s family said in a statement that he “passed away gently at home” on August 13. His two children, Nicole and Alex Avant, as well as his son-in-law, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos, praised Avant’s “revolutionary business leadership.” “Clarence leaves behind a loving family and a sea of friends and associates who have changed the world and will continue to change the world for generations to come,” they said. Avant’s death comes two years after his wife, Jackie, was killed in a home robbery in 2021. In a statement, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama called Avant “one of our favorite people,” thanking the executive for his “wise counsel.”

Avant got his start managing venues before working with singers including Little Willie John and Sarah Vaughan, along with the jazz organist Jimmy Smith. He went on to work with Venture Records, where he negotiated the sale of the Stax catalogue, and Sussex Records, where he signed soul singer–songwriter Bill Withers. He promoted Michael Jackson’s Bad Tour and paired the producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis with Janet Jackson for Control. Avant also helped athletes like boxer Muhammad Ali and NFL star Jim Brown transition to entertainment and produced films including Save the Children. Later in his career, he became president of Motown Records.

Avant sold his companies Interior Music Group and Avant Garde Music to Universal in 2018. The following year, he was the subject of The Black Godfather, a documentary about his influence in entertainment. In 2021, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and honored with the Ahmet Ertegun Award.

This post has been updated.

Clarence Avant, Music Executive, Dead at 92