Clarence Avant, 'Godfather of Black Music,' Receives Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame
Bill Withers, Jamie Foxx & more pay tribute at Friday's ceremony.
Clarence Avant, nicknamed the “Godfather of Black Music,” was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Friday (Oct. 7). And as befits the former artist manager, label executive, radio broadcaster, music publisher and ongoing social activist/philanthropist, Avant’s star (No. 2,590) is located next to that of the Grammy-winning songwriting/production team Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis -- just one of the many music talents and executives Avant has mentored over the years.
Avant’s ceremony on a hot Los Angeles morning brought out a large contingent of friends and colleagues -- from Irving Azoff to Jamie Foxx -- all paying tribute to a man who, in the words of Hollywood Chamber of Commerce president/CEO Leron Gubler, played a “big part in the history of American music.” Among the speakers and comments:
Bill Withers: “As I told his wife Jackie, Clarence is the only person I know of who could have played in this arena and done so well for so long. Not too far from here was the Wally Heider Studio where we recorded ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ and ‘Grandma’s Hands.’ And also not far from here was Sussex Records, where I had my first meeting with Clarence and signed my first recording contract. With his energy and very colorful language, Clarence seemed to know people of all manner and mannerisms. We called him the guru which evolved into godfather. I remember something Diddy -- did he? -- said when he ran into some trouble. He said, ‘I did what we all do when we get in trouble -- I called Clarence Avant.’ Now [turning to Avant] we’re gonna put your name on the Walk of Fame.”
Jimmy Jam: “There would be no Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis without Clarence Avant. His star going next to ours couldn’t be a better place. Welcome to the neighborhood.”
Terry Lewis: “To the brightest star among the stars … welcome, Pops.”
Irving Azoff: “Clarence wasn’t just the godfather to black music; welcome to your bar mitzvah, Clarence. But I have turned to Clarence many times in my career. He was a benevolent godfather who taught me to respect the business. I was asked to recall an anecdote about Clarence. Well, back in those days there was payola. And a man named Al Sharpton came to me on behalf of independent black promoters. I called Clarence, who told me don’t let that man in your office and then hung up on me.”
Jamie Foxx: “I remember meeting Clarence for the first time. It was like meeting the principal. But I got a chance to meet an absolute legend who embraced me like a family member. The footprints you’ve left in the sand will never be washed away. We love you.”
Quincy Jones: “This brings a profound sense of joy to my life. I first met Clarence in 1963 when I was vice president of Mercury Records. And in those 53 years, he’s become my oldest friend, brother, confidant, mentor and ghetto-lectual. He’s always told me the damn truth in all aspects of my life. He’s also been the silent architect of so many deals it would make your head spin. He gets things done but doesn’t beat his chest or look for credit. Clarence, you’re the original godfather of our business.”
At that start of his career on the East Coast, Avant managed jazz organist Jimmy Smith and composer Lalo Schifrin (Mission Impossible TV theme) before moving to Los Angeles in the ‘60s. Over the next five decades, Avant launched Sussex Records (Withers, Dennis Coffey), Avant Garde Broadcasting and Tabu Records (Alexander O’Neal, Cherrelle). Along the way he mentored such producers and executives as Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and LaFace Records’ L.A.Reid and Babyface (Toni Braxton). He later served as chairman of the board for Motown and has worked with several organizations, including the Apollo Theatre Foundation, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Inner City Broadcasting.
Avant, someone who generally shuns the spotlight, was quick and to the point during his acceptance speech. “This is a great moment in my life, especially since I’m not being paid. I didn’t write a speech, so there’s no speech. But thank you all for being here. Let’s leave; I don’t need a suntan.”
Also in the audience paying their respects to Avant: Epic Records chairman/CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid, songwriter/producer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Motown founder Berry Gordy, Magic Johnson, Jerry Moss, filmmaker Brett Ratner, Schifrin and music industry veteran Joe Smith (Warner Bros.).