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Clarence Avant
May 12 2021

2021 Inductee - Ahmet Ertegun Award

Clarence
Avant

Clarence Avant, the Godfather of Black Music, is cool, savvy, confident, and fearless – someone who makes the impossible possible. He’s served a variety of roles during his illustrious career, including manager, label owner, concert organizer, event producer, political fundraiser, and mentor. Avant is the quintessential impresario, with an uncanny ability to connect people, open doors, and provide opportunities to countless musicians, actors, and politicians. Bill Withers summed up his impact by declaring, “He puts people together.”

 

Avant’s career began in the 1950s when he served as the manager for Little Willie John and jazz organist Jimmy Smith. In late 1969, he launched Sussex Records, a label that soon achieved a Top Ten hit with Dennis Coffey’s “Scorpio.” The most notable artist on Sussex was Bill Withers, who released his first three records for the label, featuring the hits “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” and “Use Me.” In 1971, Avant launched Avant Garde Broadcasting, one of the first Black-owned radio stations in the country.

 

Always recognizing the power of music, Avant served as executive producer for the 1973 concert film Save the Children. This historic concert was filmed at Rev. Jesse Jackson’s PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) Black Expo and was notably one of the few festivals to feature artists from Motown, Stax, and Atlantic Records. Avant spent much of the 1970s serving as a consultant to major record labels, fighting for more equitable and lucrative deals for their roster of Black artists. Beginning in the 1980s, he became a mentor to the songwriting/production teams of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and L.A. Reid and Babyface. He served in a key promotional role for Michael Jackson’s 1987 Bad world tour and eventually became chairman of the board of Motown Records. In a business historically fraught with distrust, Avant has been trusted and respected by all. He has spent a lifetime helping artists understand – and earn – their true value.

 

Influences: Joe Glaser, Nat “King” Cole, Quincy Jones

Legacies: Berry Gordy, Don Cornelius, Sean “Diddy” Combs

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