A new Netflix documentary, “The Black Godfather,” traces the web of power of Clarence Avant, a largely unknown man who was at the core of almost every major moment in 20th century Black popular culture.
Avant, 88, has been a political mentor and fundraiser for Democratic hopefuls that have included then- Sen. Barack Obama, and has also given advice given to former president, Bill Clinton.
Known as the “original influencer,” Avant, born in the Jim Crow South, fought to combat racism. Honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, earlier this year he received the Grammy Salute to Industry Icons Award.
The film, released this month, was produced by Avant’s daughter, a former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas. It includes appearances from music superstars Snoop Dogg and Quincy Jones and Hollywood legend Cicely Tyson, as well as Obama and Clinton.
As a teen, Avant moved from North Carolina to New Jersey where he worked as a store clerk. By the 1950s and having become enamored with the music industry, he was working at a lounge and met Joe Glaser, who managed Louis Armstrong. He eventually began taking on clients like the jazz singer Sarah Vaughn.
By the 1960s, Avant was a force in the Black music world, where he launched one of the first fully Black-owned radio stations, helped broker the sale of the legendary Stax Records and served as a consultant to MGM and ABC in the 1970s, ensuring Black artists got better deals.
He was responsible for promotional posters for Michael Jackson’s 1987 “Bad” album and in the 1990s became chairman of the board of Motown Records.