Clarence Alexander Avant II, a music executive, rose to prominence as one of the most successful music producers in the recording industry. He was instrumental in the careers of Bill Withers, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis Schifrin, and Jimmy Smith. Avant was born on February 25, 1931, in the racially segregated L. Richardson Hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina, to Gertrude Avant and Clarence Avant, Sr. He grew up in Climax, North Carolina, alongside seven siblings: Ann, Brenda, Weldon, William, Harold, Paula, and Linda.
Avant graduated from Dudley High School in Greensboro, eleven miles from his hometown, in 1947. He left Climax at the age of 16 for Summit, New Jersey, where he obtained a position managing Teddy P’s (Teddy Powell) Lounge in Newark in 1954, scheduling performance acts. Avant moved to Hollywood, California in 1967 to work for Venture Records.
On May 12, 1967, Avant married Jacqueline Alberta Gray of Los Angeles, California, and their daughter Nicole Avant was born on March 6, 1968. Alexander Dubois Avant, his son, was born on August 3, 1971.
Avant launched Avant Garde Broadcasting in Los Angeles in 1971. Avant later served as executive producer for the historic concert film Save the Children, which was produced for Civil Rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson’s PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) Black Expo in Chicago two years later. In addition, he purchased and renamed the first African American-owned FM radio station in Los Angeles, California, KAGB-FM.
Avant played a supporting part as an African musician in the 1985 picture The Color Purple. Two years later, in 1987, he was instrumental in the promotion of Michael Jackson’s Bad global tour, which grossed more than $125 million. As a result, he was appointed chairman of Motown Records in 1993, where he also managed the label’s musicians.
Avant became the first African American to serve on Polygram Records’ Board of Directors in 1997, and later that year received the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also gaining a reputation as a philanthropist as a result of his fundraising efforts for Morehouse College’s Ray Charles Performing Arts Center and Morehouse Music Education Building in Atlanta, Georgia. For that work, he received an Honorary Doctorate from Morehouse College in 2003.
Avant was honored with the Trustees Award in 2008 by the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), which annually presents the Grammy Awards, in the 2006 issue of Billboard magazine. Avant was inducted into the NAACP Hall of Fame two years later in 2010, and he received the Trailblazer Award at Black Enterprise’s 2015 Entrepreneurs Summit in 2015. He was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2016 for his contributions to the music industry.
Avant received an honorary degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 2021, as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Ahmet Ertegun Award, which is given to non-performing industry professionals for their unwavering belief in and support of artists and their music.