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The Godfather of Black Music, Clarence Avant, passed away at 92 years old. The iconic music executive, film producer and businessman left an imprint on the entertainment industry that will be felt for many generations to come. Check out the many ways Avant impacted the music industry throughout his lifetime as we honor his lasting legacy inside.
Avant was a silent force in Hollywood, leaving his imprint throughout 20th Century music. He managed Sarah Vaughan, Jimmy Smith, Lalo Schifrin and Freddie Hubbard, and went on to discover legendary Black soul singer Bill Withers.
Notable artists, entertainers and Black celebrities made sure to give Avant his flowers while he was here. Back in 2019, Netflix released the Reginald Hudlin-directed documentary The Black Godfather, which tells the story of music executive as told by the people he worked with.
Countless celebrities sent their love and praise to Avant today after the news of his death was announced. They honor his rich legacy and impact on their personal careers and the many other iconic artists, notable music labels and timeless productions.
Amongst Avant’s many contributions, the pioneer was responsible for acquiring KAGB-FM, and transforming it into the first Black-owned FM radio station in Los Angeles. His impact on the industry lives on through his role in nurturing the careers of extraordinary musical talents like L.A. Reid, Babyface, Michael Jackson, and Quincy Jones.
Though fans are saddened by the loss of the industry giant, they are grateful that his flowers were given to him while he was still here. While he may be gone, his contributions will be felt forever.
Here are 15 ways Avant impacted the music industry:
1. Venture Records & William “Mickey” Stevenson
In 1967, Avant engineered what is considered the first joint venture between an African-American artist and a major record company. The deal between former Motown songwriter/producer William “Mickey” Stevenson and MGM records formed Venture Records.
2. Ja’net Dubois
In 1969, Avant helped produce the off Broaday play The Reckoning, starring Dubois. The entertainer would go on to star as Wilona in the groundbreaking TV sitcom “Good Times.” She would also write and sing the theme song for another trailblazing TV series, “The Jeffersons.” The song would become one of TV’s most beloved theme songs.
3. Stax Records
Avant was regarded as a prized deal-maker. He was recruited by music executive Al Bell to help sell the legendary soul music label, Stax Records, to Gulf+Western. Notably, the antithesis to Motown, Stax specialized in gritty and rough-sounding soul music. Its artist roster included Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding and more.
4. Sussex Records
After the folding of Venture Records, Avant launched Sussex Records in Hollywood, CA, in 1969.
5. Bill Withers
One of Sussex Records’ most successful artists was Bill Withers, whose 1971 LP Just As I Am scored a Grammy for the hit single “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Withers’ other hits, like “Lean on Me” and “Grandma’s Hands,” have been sampled by notable hip hop and R&B acts from Big Daddy Kane to Blackstreet.
6. Acquiring LA Radio Station KYTM
After establishing Avant Garde Broadcasting in 1971, Avant bought KTYM (later named KAGB), the first African-American owned FM radio station in metropolitan Los Angeles, in 1973.
7. Chuck Brown And The Soul Searchers
In the early ’70s, Chuck Brown and his famous band, The Soul Searchers, signed to Sussex. The heavy percussive and afro-Latin-influenced sound of Brown’s music helped define a new funk sub-genre, Go-Go music, coming out of Washington, D.C. The sounds of Go-Go are still felt today.
8. Tabu Records
Once Sussex Records folded, Avant founded Tabu Productions (better known as Tabu Records) in 1976. The label would found major success on the music charts throughout the 1980s and early ’90s.
9. Kool & The Gang
In the early ’90s, groundbreaking R&B band Kool & the Gang signed to Tabu. Since their debut in the early ’70s, this ensemble has cranked out pop classics like “Lady’s Night” and “Celebrate.” And their early funk hits, including “N.T.” and “Jungle Boogie,” have been sampled numerous times by hit hip hop artists.
10. Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis
Though they never signed to Tabu Records, the iconic producer and songwriting duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis began their record producing career crafting hit tunes for acts on Avant’s label. Jam and Lewis would go on to define the dance-able electronic sound of funky R&B from the mid- to late ’80s.
11. The S.O.S. Band
In 1983, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis began producing hits for Atlanta-born R&B group The S.O.S. Band. Among the classic tracks the duo wrote for the band were “Just Be Good to Me,” “Tell Me If You Still Care” and “Just the Way You Like It.”
Singer Cherelle was another Tabu artist Jam and Lewis turned into a hit-making R&B act. Her R&B radio hit “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” was covered by both Robert Palmer and Mariah Carey.
13. Michael Jackson
In 1987, Avant helped to promote Michael Jackson’s first solo tour, for the LP Bad. As Michael Jackson was one of the biggest selling pop music artists in history, his tour added four new entries in the Guinness Book of World Records. It was the largest grossing tour in history, the tour with the largest attended audience and the most successful concert series.
After Polygram acquired Motown Records in 1993, Avant was named Chairman of the Board of Motown Records.
15. Alexander O’Neal
Soul crooner Alexander O’Neal was a Tabu Records superstar who scored late ’80s radio hits like “Fake,” “If You Were Here Tonight” and “Criticize.” With his smooth, baritone vocals and a look tinted with urban edge, O’Neal’s success was a precursor to the stardom of up-and-coming soul men like Brian McKnight, Eric Benét and R. Kelly.