Industry icon Clarence Avant and radio pioneer Lee Bailey were honored for their respective career achievements by the Black Business Association on Tuesday night. Themed “The Business Behind the Music,” the BBA’s annual Salute to Black Music Awards Gala at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles was one of several events taking place this week in commemoration of Black Music Month as the industry ramps up for Sunday’s BET Awards.
“Everybody in this room has been touched by Clarence Avant,” said business entrepreneur Danny Bakewell Sr., as he surveyed a ballroom that included Jerry Moss, co-founder of A&M Records; BET chairman/CEO Debra L. Lee; Warner/Chappell Music chairman/CEO Jon Platt; Universal Music Group general counsel/executive VP business and legal affairs Jeffrey Harleston; and Interscope Geffen A&M executive VP Joie Manda. Before presenting Avant’s award, Bakewell talked further about the industry veteran’s legacy. Nicknamed the “Godfather of Black Music,” Avant cultivated the careers of Bill Withers and the S.O.S. Band, mentored such Grammy-winning producers as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and L.A. Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, and served as chairman of the board for Motown. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year.
“Clarence is not only awesome because of what he’s done in the record business, but also because of what he’s done in life,” said longtime friend Bakewell during a heartfelt and humorous speech. “Clarence has a black heart. He makes sure that his daily life is laced with trying to help black people move from one another to another. He is a man who does not seek fame — he definitely seeks fortune; he’s real clear about that. But what he seeks is to do good and to do right by black people. He helps white people too. That’s collateral damage. He’s not looking for accolades and honors. He’s looking for ways that he can make a difference.”
Quincy Jones, Avant’s best friend and the evening’s honorary awards dinner chair, weighed in as well. “There has never been a human being I’ve known like Clarence Avant. He’s the most original, giving, loving, caring and humble person I’ve ever met. We’ve bonded like two ghetto kings for 65 years.” After chastising Avant for always putting ice in red wine, Jones concluded, “I’ll always be there for you, my brother. I love you.”
Dancing onstage to Cherrelle’s Jam & Lewis-produced hit “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On,” Avant later thanked family and friends in the packed ballroom for a great evening. Keeping his remarks brief, Avant quipped, “Skip [BBA president/CEO Earl Cooper] has not given me a check yet, so this will be a short speech.”
Spotted in the audience during the rousing standing ovation that greeted Avant were his wife Jackie (with whom he’ll celebrate 50 years of marriage in August), daughter Nicole (with husband and Netflix COO Ted Sarandos) and son Alex. Also in the room was Motown president and Universal Music Publishing Group president of urban music Ethiopia Habtemariam, who became tearful as she talked about Avant being an important mentor in her career. She also served as the awards dinner chair. Among the evening’s entertainment was Grammy-winning singer BeBe Winans.
Lee Bailey, the evening’s other honoree, was saluted for his achievements in the radio industry. Bailey got his start as an on-air personality in the early ’70s at radio stations in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. He then launched Bailey Broadcasting Services out of his garage in 1979, which inspired the creation of his popular on-air magazine RadioScope. After a successful 20-year run with that syndicated show, Bailey founded the Electronic Urban Report in 1996. The EURweb.com site currently tracks more than 2 million visitors each week.