“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,” Avant’s family said in a statement. “The joy of his legacy eases the sorrow of our loss.”
That legacy looms large: In the wake of Avant’s passing, artists, executives and political leaders have been reacting to the loss of the legendary executive, who helped launch the careers of important talents such as Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Bill Withers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Sean “Diddy” Combs and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds. Avant also mentored younger executives who became industry heavyweights themselves — among them, Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Sony Music Publishing chairman/CEO Jon Platt.
Avant’s contributions to the industry were so profound that he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021 and was honored by the Recording Academy with the Grammy Salute to Industry Icons award in 2019, among numerous other honors. But his contributions to the culture extended beyond music into various other realms, including politics (he famously slept in the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House after he helped Bill Clinton get elected) and sports, working with athletes such as Jim Brown (whom he helped transition into a Hollywood acting career), Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali.
Unsurprisingly, Avant’s death prompted a flood of tributes from luminaries across multiple spheres. Below you can find them all.
Bill and Hillary Clinton: “Hillary and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend Clarence Avant, whose legendary career brought artists and their music to millions of people. 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 him and not come away feeling more positive and wanting to follow his example. We 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. Our hearts are with Nicole, Alex and everyone else who loved and will miss him.”
Sir Lucian Grainge, chairman/CEO of Universal Music Group: “Clarence Avant’s extraordinary musical legacy has been felt for decades and will be felt for decades to come. He will 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. We have lost an incomparable visionary whose brilliance, humor, irreverence, and love made the world a better place.
On behalf of everyone at UMG, we offer our deepest condolences to Nicole, Ted and Alex and to their entire family.”
Jon Platt, chairman/CEO of Sony Music Publishing: “It is difficult to process the loss of Clarence Avant. Clarence was an ally and mentor to me and many others who followed the trail he blazed. As one of the leading architects of the Black entertainment business, he expanded opportunities for executives of color and supported us along our journey. Clarence Avant positively impacted my life the moment he walked into it, filling a void that I did not know existed. Clarence is the closest person to a father that I ever had. He often would say, “Life is about numbers…you’re born with a number, and you leave earth with a number…”. And he was right, but what Clarence also showed me is life is about the number of lives you impact while you are here. I am forever grateful for Clarence’s tough love and encouragement. I am also thankful to Mrs. Avant, Nicole, Alex, and Ted for sharing Clarence with all of us.”
Sean “Diddy” Combs: “Clarence Avant was an irreplaceable force in the music industry. He was a mentor and a 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.”
Pharrell Williams: “Clarence Avant was a visionary and a transcendent spirit. 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 showed them what we can be, what we can do, and how much more we can all achieve if you give us opportunity. He has been behind so many musical greats, people in and across the entertainment industry, and I’m so honored to have known him. He was a Godfather, a Godfather to the Black dream and a Godfather to the American dream. There will never be another like him.
“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. Continued blessings and favor to Nicole, Alex, and Ted. Last but not least, his spirit is amongst the stars up in the heavens with The Master. Some people use the phrase “passed away.” I don’t because maybe the time has passed, but I don’t know that you’re away. Clarence went back up from whence he came…heaven. Blessings.”
Evan Lamberg, president of North America at Universal Music Publishing Group: “Clarence Avant was an incredibly positive life game changer for anyone that was lucky enough to be in his orbit. Besides being a great music man and entertainment executive, he was one of the greatest civil and human rights leaders of our time. The world is a much better place, for all of us, because of Clarence Avant. My deepest condolences to his beautiful family. May he rest in eternal peace.”
Irving Azoff: “We have lost the godfather. The business would look nothing like this if it weren’t for Clarence. He had the biggest heart of any of us despite him trying to hide it! What a great man.”
L.A. Reid: “In the wake of Clarence Avant’s passing, I find it difficult to put into words the depth of loss I feel. Clarence was not just a music executive and rights leader; he was one of a kind, a true original who possessed a genuine and profound care for others. My heart goes out to his beloved children, Nicole, and Alex, as well as to the memory of his late wife Jacqueline.
“Clarence’s legacy is etched in the indelible marks he left on the music industry and in his tireless efforts for the rights of us all. Yet, what truly sets him apart was his unwavering compassion and his ability to connect with all people on a personal level. He was the embodiment of sincerity, a rarity in a world often marked by pretense. His absence will leave a void that cannot be easily filled.
“As we come to terms with this loss, let us celebrate the impact he made on countless lives and the love he shared. My thoughts and sympathies are with Nicole and Alex, and I stand with them in this difficult time, offering my support and care. Clarence’s presence, his kindness, and his legacy will forever echo in our hearts. I will deeply miss him.”
Valerie Simpson, songwriter (Ashford & Simpson): “‘The Black Godfather’ I knew and I marveled at his deal making but during vacation times with Quincy he’d speak in his own way and say how much he loved Ashford & Simpson music. Clarence would let loose a vocabulary of cuss words – never before heard that would enlighten me and make me laugh – and I will miss that authenticity and life!”
Quincy Jones: “There will never be enough words to express how much Clarence Avant meant to me. 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.”
Clive Davis: “Clarence 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.”
Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff (Gamble & Huff): “Clarence Avant was a great friend of ours. He definitely made his mark in the industry. He will be truly missed. We send our sincere condolences to his family.”
Berry Gordy: “With the passing of Clarence Avant the world has lost an icon, his family has lost their patriarch, and I lost a dear friend. 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.
“Of his numerous professional accomplishments – Clarence was most proud of his family – his beloved wife Jacqueline, his son Alex, his daughter Nicole and her husband Ted Sarandos. My heart goes out to them. Our Black Godfather may be gone – but he will never be forgotten.”
T.I.: “Maaaan, woke up this morning and couldn’t believe this news!! 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.”
Roc Nation: “Clarence Avant isn’t just the “Godfather Of Black Music,” he is our cultural Godfather. 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.”
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: “In Memoriam: 2021 Inductee Clarence Avant, known as “The Black Godfather,” was cool, savvy, confident, and fearless — someone who made the seemingly impossible possible. Avant served a variety of roles during his illustrious career, including manager, label owner, concert organizer, event producer, political fundraiser, and mentor. He was the quintessential impresario, with an uncanny ability to connect people, open doors, and provide opportunities for countless musicians, actors, and politicians. Hall of Famer Bill Withers perfectly summed up Avant’s impact: ‘He put people together.’”
Earvin “Magic” Johnson: “Rest in peace to the legendary, game-changing “Black Godfather”, and my great friend Clarence Avant. His accomplishments speak for themselves. As a former music manager, he founded two record labels and purchased the first fully black-owned radio station. 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.”
Kevin Liles, chairman/CEO of 300 Elektra Entertainment: “RIP Clarence Avant, Godfather of Black Music. You will be missed my friend. Rest in Peace.”
Ben Crump, civil rights attorney: “Clarence Avant — the Godfather of Black music — has died at 92. Known as the great connector in the industries of music, entertainment, and even in politics, he spent decades shaping Black culture and nurturing artists. His legacy will LIVE ON. Rest In Power, Godfather.”
Sherrilyn Ifill, former president/director-counself of NAACP Legal Defense Fund: “‘The Godfather’ has left us. This man was singularly responsible for helping so many Black artists get paid their worth. Also was a wonderful supporter & former board member of @NAACP_LDF. Rest in Peace & Power #ClarenceAvant.”
Reverend Al Sharpton: “#ClarenceAvant was a revolutionary. When people in the entertainment world were delegated to a near master/slave relationship, he broke through that wall of exploitation and made us respected business people. I can’t count the enormous amount of situations that he negotiated.”
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass: “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.
My thoughts are with the Avant family and all who mourn this massive loss.”
Barry Weiss, CEO of RECORDS: “RIP Clarence Avant. I can’t believe I’m actually writing this. This man was a true legend for real. A national treasure. He was like a second father to me. Complex, brilliant, a tough hard exterior but a beautiful soft thoughtful kind gentleman on the inside. He was always there for me and my father and we were always there for him. Nothing I can say here can come close to describing what an amazing person Clarence was. So I’II leave most of the words to the many others, the legions of industry executives and artists (not to mention the nation’s presidents) that Clarence helped. There’ll never be another like him. My last time hugging him in LA in February is a hug I’ll never forget. We all love you Clarence. Rest easy.”
Jody Gerson, chairman/CEO at Universal Music Publishing Group: “There are no words that can fully capture Clarence Avant’s influence. He was a legend – a pioneering force in music, devoted champion for Black artists, cultural trailblazer and powerful voice for humanitarian efforts. Clarence’s legacy will live on through the many artists, songwriters, producers, executives and friends he mentored and supported. All of us at UMPG send our deepest condolences to his family and all who knew and loved him.”
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