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Wed, 02.25.1931

Clarence Avant, Music Executive and Entrepreneur born

Clarence Avant

*Clarence Avant was born on this date in 1931. He was a Black music executive, entrepreneur, and film producer.

Clarence Alexander Avant was born in Climax, North Carolina; he was the oldest of eight children. He attended a one-room school in Greensboro, NC, until the ninth grade. He spent his freshman and second years at Dudley High School in Greensboro before moving to New Jersey in 1947 as a teenager. In New Jersey, Avant worked as a stock clerk at Macy's and for a law directory.

He began in the music business in the 1950s as a manager of Teddy P's Lounge in Newark, New Jersey, owned by promoter Teddy Powell. Joseph G. "Joe" Glaser mentored Avant. Avant later managed R&B singer Little Willie John and jazz singers Sarah Vaughan, Kim Weston, Luiz Bonfa, and Wynton Kelly. The list included Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Pat Thomas, and rock and roll pioneer Tom Wilson.

Avant partnered with the Wilson Organization, jazz producer Creed Taylor, jazz musician Jimmy Smith, and Argentine pianist-composer Lalo Schifrin. Avant incorporated Avant Garde Enterprises, Inc. on November 7, 1962, in New York, the same month that Smith became a client of Associated Booking and originally had offices at 850 Seventh Avenue. Schifrin and Smith collaborated to make The Cat, released by Verve Records on April 27, 1964. Avant opened a West Coast office in September 1964 to accommodate the growing motion picture soundtrack assignments offered to his clients.

During his years in New York, Avant served as an adviser, board member, and executive of the National Association of Radio Announcers (NARA), later the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers (NATRA), and also as a consultant to PlayTape, a two-track tape cartridge system developed by Frank Stanton, and first marketed by MGM Records. On September 27, 1966, Avant, an independent record production firm, incorporated Sussex Productions, Inc. in New York.

Venture Records Inc.

On October 2, 1967, Venture Records Inc. was incorporated in California, a company for which Avant successfully engineered the first joint venture between an African American artist and a major record company. Founded as an outlet for the soul acts of MGM Records, Venture Records Inc. was run by former Motown songwriter, record producer, and A&R department head William "Mickey" Stevenson. Negotiated for Stevenson by Los Angeles attorney Abraham Somer, the label had offices at 8350 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

In 1967, Avant married Jacqueline "Jackie" Alberta Gray. The couple had two children. Daughter Nicole Avant is a former United States Ambassador to the Bahamas. Son Alexander Du Bois Avant was born August 3, 1971.

Avant moved from Manhattan to Beverly Hills to work with Venture Records Inc. in the Fall of 1967 until 1969, when MGM Records shut down the label and joint venture. During this time, record producer, songwriter, and executive Al Bell enlisted the aid of Avant, whom he had met through the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers (NATRA), to sell Stax Records to Gulf Western. The deal was finalized on May 29, 1968, for $4.3 million, with Avant receiving ten percent of all debentures.

In August 1969, Avant became the associate producer, along with Al Bell, of Douglas Turner Ward's The Reckoning (a surreal Southern Fable), presented in co-operation with The Negro Ensemble Company at St. Mark's Playhouse in New York.  The Reckoning started the off-Broadway season, starring Jeannette DuBois of Good Times fame. After Venture Records Inc. folded, Avant remained in Los Angeles and founded Sussex Records on December 18, 1969. Avant signed singer, songwriter, producer Bill Withers, guitarist Dennis Coffey, and soft rock band Gallery to Sussex Records, distributed from 1970 to 1974 by Buddah Records. The company went out of business in June 1975, with the IRS seizing and auctioning off all assets because of $48,000 in federal tax liens.

Under Avant Garde Broadcasting, Inc., founded on August 6, 1971, he bought the first black-owned F.M. radio station in metropolitan Los Angeles. On March 3, 1973, KTYM-FM in Inglewood, California, was purchased from Trans America Broadcasting Corp for $321,000. This included existing facilities at 6803 West Boulevard in Inglewood, FCC licensing fees, and renaming it KAGB-FM. Using a $199,900 promissory note and stock purchase warrants from the Urban National Corporation, Avant partnered with two investment bankers. Del Shields from the National Association of Radio and Television Announcers (NARTA) served as Executive Vice-president. Management refused to accept all counsel or advice on running the station, despite never turning a profit.

Ultimately, AVG was forced into bankruptcy by Urban National on November 20, 1975, when it defaulted on promissory notes and warrants of around $400,000. Avant lost about $611,168.67 in the bankruptcy, $71,500 from Interior Music Corporation advances between August 1973 and September 1974, and $13,887 from Sussex Records loans. Comedian Bill Cosby was an additional investor in Avant Garde Broadcasting, investing approximately $200,000 through his company SAH Enterprises. In September 1973, Paramount Pictures released Save the Children, with Avant serving as executive producer. He filmed at the Operation PUSH Black Expo in Chicago; the production mixed performances of top black entertainers with footage depicting blacks, especially children, in various conditions, including war-ravaged and malnourished refugees. The film premiered at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Billboard celebrated Avant's 75th birthday in its February 2006 issue. On February 10, 2008, the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded him the Trustees Award. On October 7, 2016, Avant received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the recording industry, next to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis star. In February 2018, Avant received the President's Merit Award as a Grammy Icon at the Clive Davis Pre Grammy-Gala in Los Angeles. In 2021, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced that Avant received the Ahmet Ertegun Award and will be inducted into the 2021 class.

He has also gone by the name of "The Black Godfather." His wife, Jackie, served as president of the Neighbors of Watts, the support group for the South-Central Community Child Care Center in 1975, entertainment chairman of the NOW benefits auction and dinner dance, and chairwoman of NOW membership in 1974. She was also on the board of directors of the International Student Center at UCLA. She was shot and killed on December 1, 2021, at age 81, during a home invasion at the couple's Beverly Hills, California residence.

Clarence Avant died at his home in Los Angeles on August 13, 2023, at the age of 92.

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