Clarence Alexander Avant (born February 25, 1931) is an American music executive, entrepreneur, and film producer, sometimes called the “Godfather of Black Music.
Clarence Alexander Avant was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, he was the oldest of eight children. He attended a one-room school in Greensboro until the eighth grade. He spent his freshman and second years of high school at Dudley High School in Greensboro before moving to New Jersey in 1947 as a teenager.
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.
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, mentored Avant. Glaser founded Consolidated Booking Corporation and Associated Booking Corporation on November 26, 1943.
Avant later managed R&B singer Little Willie John, jazz singer Sarah Vaughan, Kim Weston, Luiz Bonfa, Wynton Kelly, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Pat Thomas, rock and roll pioneer Tom Wilson, whom Avant partnered with in the Wilson Organization, jazz producer Creed Taylor, Jimmy Smith (jazz musician of the Hammond B-3 electronic organ), and Argentine pianist-composer, Lalo Schifrin.
Avant incorporated Avant Garde Enterprises, Inc. on November 7, 1962 in New York, the same month that Smith became a client of Associated Booking, and originally had offices at 850 Seventh Avenue. Schifrin and Smith collaborated to make The Cat, released on Verve Records on April 27, 1964. Avant opened a West Coast office in September 1964 to accommodate the growing motion picture soundtrack assignments offered to his clients.
During his years in New York, Avant served as an adviser, board member, and executive of the National Association of Radio Announcers (NARA), later the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers (NATRA), and also as a consultant to PlayTape, a two track tape cartridge system developed by Frank Stanton, and first marketed by MGM Records On September 27, 1966, Avant incorporated Sussex Productions, Inc. in New York, an independent record production firm with artists Four Hi’s, Johnny Nash, Terry Bryant, Billy Woods, and the Judge and the Jury.
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. Negotiated for Stevenson by Los Angeles attorney Abraham Somer, the label had offices at 8350 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.
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.
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. The Reckoning started the off-Broadway season, starring Jeannette DuBois, later Ja’net Dubois of Good Times fame.
Sussex Records Inc.
After Venture Records Inc. folded, Avant remained in Los Angeles and founded Sussex Records 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.
The remaining furniture, office equipment, and recording masters (bought by CBS Records for $50,500) were auctioned in July 1975 at Sussex offices (6255 West Sunset Blvd, Hollywood). Avant signed singer, songwriter, and producer Bill Withers, guitarist Dennis Coffey, and soft rock band Gallery to Sussex Records, which was distributed from 1970-74 by Buddah Records.
Avant Garde Broadcasting
Under Avant Garde Broadcasting, Inc., founded on August 6, 1971, Avant bought the first African-American owned FM radio station in metropolitan Los Angeles on March 3, 1973 from Trans America Broadcasting Corp, buying the license of KTYM-FM in Inglewood, California for $321,000, including actual facilities at 6803 West Boulevard in Inglewood, and FCC licensing fees, 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.
Avant Garde Broadcasting, run by Del Shields from the National Association of Radio and Television Announcers (NARTA) who served as Executive Vice-President, 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.
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.
On February 10, 2008, the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded him the Trustees Award.