Clarence Avant

Clarence Avant
Clarence Avant
Born February 25, 1931 (1931-02-25) (age 80)
Climax, North Carolina
Origin Climax, North Carolina
Genres R&B, soul, pop
Occupations Music executive, entrepreneur, and film producer
Labels Venture Records Inc.
Sussex Records
Tabu Productions, Inc.
Motown Records
Associated acts Bill Withers
Dennis Coffey
GalleryThe SOS Band
Alexander O'Neal
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis

Clarence Avant (born February 25, 1931) is an American music executive, entrepreneur, and film producer. He was also known as the Godfather of Black Music.[1][2][3] Avant's 75th birthday was celebrated by Billboard magazine, on its February 2006 issue.[4]



Early career

Clarence Alexander Avant was born in Greensboro, North Carolina to Gertrude Avant. Avant was one of eight children (siblings: Weldon L. Avant, William E., Paul A., Harold L., Ann M., Brenda, and Linda Woods.[5]) and attended a one-room school in Greensboro, N.C until the eighth grade. Avant spent his freshman and sophomore years of high school at Dudley High School in Greensboro, North Carolina, before moving to New Jersey in 1947 at age sixteen.[6] 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.[7] A strong early influence and mentor for Avant was Joseph G. Joe Glaser (December 17, 1896 - June 6, 1969), music manager of Louis Armstrong from 1935 until his death in 1969, and the original proprietor of Sunset Gardens on the South Side of Chicago. Glaser founded Consolidated Booking Corporation and Associated Booking Corporation on November 26, 1943.[8][9] It went on to become one of the world's largest and most successful theatrical booking agencies with more than 1,000 clients at the time of Glaser's death. Avant later managed R&B singer Little Willie John, jazz singer Sarah Vaughan, rock and roll pioneer Tom Wilson, whom Avant partnered with in the Wilson Organization, jazz producer Creed Taylor (jazz musician of the Hammond B-3 electric organ), Jimmy Smith, and Argentine pianist-composer Lalo Schifrin. Schifrin and Smith collaborated to make he Cat, released on Verve Records on April 27, 1964. During these years Avant lived in the newly built Mayfair Towers at 15 West 72nd Street near Central Park West and behind the Dakota. He had offices at 37 West 57th Street near Avenue of Americas, across the street from Joe Glaser's residence at 60 West 57th Street.

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.[10] Avant moved from Manhattan to Beverly Hills to work with Venture Records Inc. in the Fall of 1967, doing so 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.[11]

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.[12] "The Reckoning" started the Off-Broadway season and starred Jeannette DuBois, later Ja'net Dubois of Good Times fame.[13]

Sussex Records Inc.

After Venture Records Inc. folded, Avant remained in Beverly Hills in the Trousdale Estates and founded Sussex Records in Hollywood on December 18, 1969. 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.[14][15] The remaining furniture, office equipment, and recording masters (bought by CBS Records for $50,500) were auctioned in July 1975 at Sussex offices (6255 W Sunset Blvd, Hollywood, CA). Avant signed singer, songwriter, and producer Bill Withers, guitarist Dennis Coffey, and soft rock band Gallery to Sussex Records, which was distributed from April 1970 until 1974 by Buddah Records, founded by record executive Neil Bogart on March 23, 1967 and independently distributed until its demise.

Avant Garde Broadcasting

Under Avant Garde Broadcasting, founded on August 6, 1971, Avant bought the first African-American owned FM radio station in metropolitan Los Angeles on March 3, 1973, renaming it KAGB-FM. Using a $199,900 promissory note and stock purchase warrants from the Urban National Corporation of Boston, Massachusetts (a Venture Capital company founded in July 1971), Avant partnered with two investment bankers; Kenneth H. Miller, who stayed until 1975, and Tull N. Gearrald, Jr., who stayed until 1976. UNC was dedicated to the implementation of new approaches to urban problems. Urban National was the first purely private venture capital organization to provide capital for the early stage development of high-risk minority businesses. It also provided its clients with expert managerial counseling to assist in their businesses success. With the goal of advancing black and other disadvantaged Americans into the mainstream of the free-market system, Urban National invested in firms that could effectively utilize at least $100,000 of financing. Its capitalization ($10 million) came from such institutional investors as Yale and Harvard Universities, the John Hancock and Aetna insurance companies, Prudential Insurance Co., J.P. Morgan & Co., and the Mobil and Gulf Oil corporations. Avant Garde Broadcasting, run by Del Shields from the National Association of Radio and Television Announcers (NARTA), never turned a profit, and was ultimately forced into bankruptcy by Urban National on November 20, 1975 when it defaulted on promissory notes and warrants of around $400,000, and refused to accept all counsel or advice on how to run the station. 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 approx. $200,000 through his company SAH Enterprises.[16]

In September 1973, Paramount Pictures released "Save The Children", with Avant serving as executive producer. 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.[17]

Tabu Productions, Inc.

Avant founded Tabu Productions, Inc., also known as Tabu Records, on January 28, 1976, signing the musical ensemble The SOS Band (1979–1991), soul singer Cherrelle (1983–1992), singer Alexander O'Neal (1984–1993), and Kool & the Gang (1991–1993), in addition to playing a key role in the successful rise of Grammy Award-winning R&B and pop music songwriters and producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. This duo became the in-house production team at Tabu Productions, Inc. Avant served as an unsalaried advisor and handled their business affairs from Los Angeles, while continuing his career as a deal maker, power broker, and mentor to others throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Tabu became associated with CBS Records in 1980, and later Epic Records, a division of CBS. Tabu became affiliated with A&M Records for pressing, marketing, and distribution from March to August 1991.

During these years, Avant served on the California State Board of Education, until his resignation in 1978. In connection with Avant's close political ties to Los Angeles City Hall because of major political contributions to Mayor Tom Bradley in 1973, including $20,000 from Sussex Records Inc. and $26,000 from Avant personally, Avant became affiliated with the Los Angeles Downtown Redevelopment Corporation. In October 1978, the company won approval for a $1.5 million urban redevelopment loan to purchase three buildings on or near downtown Los Angeles' Spring St., owned by Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co. They purchased the Rowan Building, located at 458 S Spring St, the old Security Pacific Bank Building, located at 510 S Spring St, and the Rosslyn Hotel, located at 112 W 5th St, all with federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funds. In September 1979, after participating in U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young's trade mission to Africa, Avant was retained as Tanzania's marketing representative for meerschaum pipes and consultant on motion pictures and recordings.

In June 1980, with the help of developer Nathan Landow, Avant was given a partnership, without making a cash investment, in a $28 million office building project in downtown Washington, D.C., located above the Metro Center subway stop at 12th and G streets NW. The new partnership agreement required no cash investment and no specific services from the new minority partners. For their 10 percent interest, Avant signed a promissory note for the value of the interest, $500,000. In essence, Landow lent the $50,000 to Avant to invest in the partnership. Then the partners repaid the loan from the profits they received from the office building. There are two other economic benefits of such a partnership: first, the individual partners are able to deduct from their income taxes part of the value of the building as a depreciation expense. And second, after about 10 years, the partners may agree to refinance the building based on its increased value and general inflation in the real estate market. While this essentially adds a new and greater mortgage on the property, it allows them to draw a large amount of cash out of the property for use in other investments.

Other ventures

In 1982, Avant was introduced to Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis by Music Executive Dina R. Andrews who was then their Manager and a key employee of Dick Griffey's Solar Records (Whispers, Shalamar, Lakeside, The Deele LA & BabyFace). Through Andrews' introduction to Jam & Lewis, they produced their first masters for Avant on the SOS Band. Andrews set-up Jam & Lewis' company, Flyte Tyme Productions, as a d/b/a, and the producers went on to produce several other masters on SOS Band, Cherrelle, Alexander O'Neal, and Change.

During this time, Avant was represented by attorney Ronald Eugene Sweeney of the law firm Sweeney and Irby, a law corporation in Los Angeles formed October 27, 1982.

Avant became involved as a mentor to Jheryl Busby, president and chief executive officer of Motown Record Co. LP, as the company sought to implement a new business plan during the Spring of 1993. In August 1993, as part of Polygram Holdings Inc.'s acquisition of Motown, completed July 1, 1993 and totaling more than $300 million, Avant was named Chairman of the Board of Motown Records. Four years later, in December 1997, he became the first African-American to serve on the International Management Board for Polygram. In June 1994, Avant and a group of other notable African American investors created a $20 million investment partnership in South Africa called New Age Beverages. New Age soon teamed with PepsiCo to build a bottling plant in South Africa. Pepsico owned 25% of a joint venture bottling company called New Age Beverages, with the other 75% in the hands of Egoli Beverages, L.P., a U.S.-based partnership that included Avant.

Pepsi invested $5 million and Egoli invested $15 million. This plant was PepsiCo's first venture in the country since 1985, when it left South Africa to protest the policies of apartheid. The plant was to be completely managed by South Africans, with financing being provided to truck drivers at the plant so that they could eventually purchase their own trucks. PepsiCo International ended the South African joint venture with New Age Beverages due to low sales and slow growth. In May 1998, PepsiCo agreed to pay stock to the investors who lost money in its bottling company. In March 1993, Avant became associated with the World African Network equity partnership, a 24-hour pay cable network founded by Eugene D. and Phyllis Tucker Vinson Jackson in 1987. Avant was supposed to be consulting with the network regarding music programing and entertainment, as well as serving as the network's liaison with the music community. The cable network was to have start up costs of around $15 million and was to provide sitcoms, dramas, news, documentaries, variety shows and a host of other programs that appeal to people of African descent. In June 1996, Avant became an investor in the Royal Palm Crowne Plaza Hotel in Miami, Florida, the first black-owned hotel in Miami. The 422 room hotel opened in October 2001. After Andre Harrell became president and CEO of Motown Records in October 1995, the company relocated its headquarters to New York in February of the following year. Avant returned to overseeing the label's day-to-day operations however, after Harrell resigned with a reported $30 million package. George Jackson took over as president and chief executive officer in February 1998, and Avant left Motown in February 1999 after Montreal-based Seagram Co. Ltd. purchased Polygram for $10.6 billion in December 1998.

After Motown, Avant became associated with Urban Box Office Network, Inc., serving as its chairman. It was a web based new media company consisting of series of websites aimed at minorities. UBO was conceived of at the Mayflower Hotel in New York on a napkin in February 1999, and incorporated on May 13, 1999. Founded by George Jackson, Hollywood producer and record company executive, Adam Kidron, longtime British music industry producer, and Frank Cooper, former vice president of business affairs at Def Jam Recordings; the trio raised $5.5 million in first round financing, with Avant helping to raise $16 million in second round private equity financing from Flatiron Partners, Chase Capital Partners, the New York City Investment Fund, and an investor group on January 20, 2000. The funders of Urban Box Office Networks included Quetzal, media investment banker Allen & Co., MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte, and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Flatiron Partners. Jimmy de Castro, president and CEO of AM/FM Radio and AM/FM Interactive, also was a private investor. Quetzal was a $170-million fund founded by Clear Channel and then-CBS Corp. (now Viacom) and run by Chase Capital Partners (CCP), the private equity unit of Chase Manhattan Corp. Also invested were Belo Corp., Bonneville International, Cox Enterprises, The Walt Disney Co., Cumulus Media, Emmis Broadcasting, Fox Broadcasting, Granite Broadcasting, NBC, Radio One, Susquehanna Radio, and Tribune Broadcasting. Funding continued with $18.1 million in April and $3 million in September. After over $37 million was invested in UBO, it was unable to obtain $35 million in financing from Texas venture capital company Interfase Capital of Austin, forcing the company to file Chapter 11 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of New York in November 2000, and fire 330 employees. Although its total assets were reportedly $9.9 million, UBO was liable for $7.1 million to six holders of secured debt and owed nearly $6.8 million to 650 holders of unsecured debt.

In November 1999, Avant joined the newly established music advisory board of, the Web's largest secure digital music retailer. Founded in 1998, the San Francisco-based provided music fans with a dynamic Web music experience through its digital retail music site,, and its network of affiliate partners. Mjuice combined one of the Web's largest catalogs of fully licensed major and independent label music with a compelling, secure and easy-to-use MP3-based music download system. was based in San Francisco's Audio Alley and had 25 employees.

Today Avant is president of his own publishing companies, Avant Garde Enterprises, Inc. (November 7, 1962), Avant Garde Music Publishing, Inc.(November 27, 1968 in New York / September 2001 in California)(ASCAP), Clarama Music, Inc. (November 29, 1968)(BMI), and Interior Music Corp. (June 1983)(BMI). In May 2004, Universal Music Publishing Group announced that it would administer Clarence Avant's music publishings catalogs, including representation worldwide for synchronization licensing for Motion Picture, TV, Advertising and other mediums. Clarence Avant has also served as a member of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Pepsi-Cola African-American Advisory Board. Avant was recently awarded with an honorary doctorate from Morehouse College on February 13, 2003 at the Founder's Day Convocation. Avant was featured prominently on the cover of the February 11, 2006 issue of Billboard magazine. Around 2006, Avant became a key advisor to Network Foundation Technologies, LLC (NFT), a leading developer of Internet streaming technologies.

On February 10, 2008, the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded him the Trustees Award.

Personal life

Avant married Jacqueline "Jackie" Alberta Gray in 1967. The couple has two children, Nicole Avant, born March 6, 1968, and Alexander Devore Avant, born August 3, 1971.[18] Mrs. Avant 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 benefit auction and dinner dance, and chairman of NOW membership in 1974. She is also on the board of directors of the International Student Center at UCLA.[19]


  1. ^ "Pioneering Exec Clarence Avant, the Master Mentor". December, 2007. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  2. ^ Goldberg, Danny (2005). How the left lost teen spirit-- (and how they're getting it back). Akashic Books. p. 229. ISBN 9780971920682. 
  3. ^ "Black celebs are major players". L A Times August, 2007. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  4. ^ "Industry Hero Gets Back to His Roots". May, 2006. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  5. ^ "Weldon L. Avant, 70, auto mechanic, Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ), Saturday, January 15, 2005.
  6. ^ "Music Industry Hero Gets Back To His Roots," Greensboro News and Record, Sunday May 21, 2006, Author: Nancy H. McLaughlin.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Obituary, New York Times, May 17, 1969, p. 33; "Joseph G. Glaser Is Dead at 72; Booking Agent For Many Stars," New York Times, June 8, 1969, p. 92
  9. ^ "Satchmo Remembers the Big Magaffa," Los Angeles Times, June 22, 1969, p. G44.
  10. ^ California Secretary of State, Corporation Number: C0533792, Corporate Records, Department of Corporations, Status Report/Statement of Information, Status: Forfeited, Jurisdiction: Delaware.
  11. ^ Bowman, Rob, Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records, Published by Music Sales Group, 2003. P. 142-143, ISBN 0-8256-7284-8, 9780825672842 402 pages
  12. ^ New York Times, August 17, 1969, p. D2.
  13. ^ Kerr, Walter. "For People Who Want To Be Cured Of the Theater At Once," New York Times, August 31, 1969, p. D1
  14. ^ Los Angeles Times, August 3, 1975, p. A5
  15. ^ California Corporation Number: C0587708, Status: Suspended, Jurisdiction: California.
  16. ^ "Bankruptcy Sale: Avant Garde Broadcasting, Inc. dba KAGB-FM, Bankrupt, Bankruptcy No. BK75-20840-BR.," Los Angeles Times, April 15, 1976, p. F1.
  17. ^ Weiler, A.H., "Stars Save The Children," New York Times, September 19, 1973, p. 40
  18. ^, California Birth Index
  19. ^ Gindick, Tia, "Beverly Hills Hostess For African Dignitaries: Jackie Avant, Entrepreneur's Wife Is Involved and Active," Los Angeles Times, February 18, 1980, p. OC_C1

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