Clarence Avant was born in 1931 in Climax, North Carolina. He had seven siblings. His early education was in a one-room school and when he moved to New Jersey he dropped out of school after completing two years of high school.
After jobs at Macy’s and Martindale-Hubbell, he became a manager at a lounge owned by a music promoter. While there, he met and became mentored by Joe Glaser, who managed the career of Louis Armstrong. Clarence joined Glaser’s agency and started to develop a reputation for his work with R&B, rock and roll, and jazz performers.
When Clarence started to see more roles in music production for movies, he moved to California. He formed his own agency and became known as the Black Godfather for his forceful representation of African American performers. He had a personality that made him both fearless and supportive of his clients.
His influence extended beyond music. When Hank Aaron approached Babe Ruth’s all-time homerun record, Clarence helped him work through the racist threats he faced. After the record was broken, Clarence helped Aaron receive the endorsement income he had been denied.
Clarence also counseled Democratic Presidents. He helped launch Barack Obama into a national spotlight with a primetime speaking slot at the 2008 Democratic convention. When President Clinton was considering resigning after impeachment, he was one who talked him into vigorous self-defense.
Clarence fought tirelessly for African American entertainers to be paid at levels equivalent to white peers. He became an advocate for not only pay but also how African American entertainers were treated. He became the go-to person to make sure that fairness existed in what had been a very unfair industry. When conflicts arose, he helped resolve them through his mediation skills. Much of his advocacy was never paid for.
Perhaps the best summary of Clarence’s life was that he pushed the first domino in hundreds of pay-it-forward stories. Clarence gave freely of his time, his advocacy, and his mediation skills. But he expected those he supported to provide support in equal measure to others. His legacy will be sustained for generations.
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“All advocacy is, at its core, an exercise in empathy.” – Samantha Power (public servant)