My life has incited many career incarnations. But, as a fresh Howard University grad, I found myself engulfed within the music industry as publicist. When drafting memos to various record execs, managers and talent, I found there was one name I typed on a consistent basis – Clarence Avant. Berry Gordy had set the blueprint for anyone in the music biz wanting to blaze a trail and scoop up black acts. Clarence Avant was always one to think outside the box. Armed with nothing more than a ninth grade education, his instincts, common sense and street smarts allowed him tho thrive with his own record labels (Sussex and Tabu Records) comprised of mostly white artists, assisting political candidates (Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, Andrew Young and Jimmy Carter) on connecting on a more visceral level and brokering some of the most iconic partnerships in music history.
Imagine Janet Jackson’s signature sound without the beats of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Imagine if Soul Train had been buried by a Dick Clark knockoff. Imagine The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air without Benny Medina bringing it to the masses and making Will Smith a global superstar. None of this would have been possible without the savvy business dealings of Clarence Avant earning him the nickname of The Black Godfather. Hailing from the town of Climax, North Carolina, Avant has never looked for permission to carve out his role in the industry. As Avant will tell you, “I don’t have problems…I have friends.”
One of the most profound moments of the doc was watching the late Sammy Davis, Jr. being booed during an appearance for the SAVE THE CHILDREN concert filmed and Executive Produced by Avant. Davis had received scathing criticism at the time for not only denouncing the Christian faith for Judaism, but for hugging then President Richard Nixon. In an effort to turn lemons into lemonade, Davis addressed the crowd, acknowledged their discontent and after proclaiming that at the end of the day he IS a black man, he broke into an emotionally charged rendition of his signature song ‘I Gotta Be Me’ which was received with a standing ovation. It’s a moment that still resonates to this day.
Produced by Avant’s daughter Former US Ambassador Nicole Avant and Netflix, The Black Godfather is a must see for nostalgia sake, Black Music History and just because Clarence Avant being a badass is a lesson for us all to never settle in life or anywhere else.