The Legal Defense Fund (LDF) remembers former Board member Clarence Avant, a giant in the entertainment industry, who passed away on Sunday in Los Angeles, California. He was 92.
Avant, who overcame immense poverty and Jim Crow laws to become a legendary entertainment producer and power broker, served as an LDF board member from 1982 to 2004 as Director and as a Director Emeritus since 2005.
Whether it was launching the careers of musicians like Bill Withers, helping to elect Andrew Young — the first Black member of Congress — or organizing Hollywood to unite behind Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign, Avant had his hand in much of modern history. He advocated for scores of Black people in business, sports, music, and Hollywood to get paid what they deserved. A widely celebrated music executive and longtime supporter of LDF, who was also known affectionately as ‘the Black Godfather,’ Avant was awarded the organization’s Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.
“We mourn the loss of Clarence Avant, who for decades made giant contributions to American culture, music and politics,” said LDF President and Director-Counsel Janai S. Nelson. “He most certainly will go down in history as someone who quietly, yet powerfully, improved the lives of millions of Black people who likely never heard of him.”
“Whenever the LDF asked Mr. Avant for help, whether it was to make a connection, raise money, or to use his clout to advance an important civil rights issue, Clarence Avant answered that call and more,” she added. “We grieve this loss keenly and send his many loved ones our condolences.”
Former LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill:
“Clarence Avant was a legend. His journey from humble beginnings to becoming the ‘Godfather of Black Entertainment’ was fueled by a fierce commitment to ensuring that Black artists were protected from financial exploitation. He was fearless. And that made him powerful. For LDF, he was a loyal friend and supporter. I enjoyed hearing his unique insights, being pushed by him to be more ambitious, and listening to his amazing stories. We have lost a powerful and inspiring elder.”
Former LDF President and Director-Counsel Ted Shaw:
“Clarence Avant’s passing marks the loss of a great American whose contributions to our country changed the world in which we live. Most people whose lives were impacted by Clarence Avant could not call his name. The culture and music of our time have been, in significant ways, impacted by Clarence Avant, who managed and promoted the music careers of many of the great artists and performers of our time. His life and his work transcended generations and genres, making the contributions of jazz, R&B, Hip Hop and Rap, and Rock and Roll possible.
“Just as quietly as Clarence Avant impacted and shaped the world of entertainment, he also left his mark on civil and human rights. He gave unstinting support to the causes of civil and human rights. With his time, money and energy, Clarence Avant supported the work of the Legal Defense Fund as a Board member and supporter. That is how I came to know Clarence Avant.
“When in the late 1980’s Julius Chambers asked me to move to Los Angeles to open a Western Regional Office of LDF, Clarence and Jackie Avant were among the most ardent supporters of that effort. They opened their home, their hearts, and their rolodex (remember those?) to us. Clarence Avant made some things LDF did possible. He did it with passion for the cause and with great humility. Clarence Avant helped to bring music and justice into the world. He was a quiet giant, and I salute him.”
Former LDF President and Director-Counsel Elaine Jones:
“For more than two decades Clarence Avant served with distinction on the Board of Directors of the LDF. For eleven of those years I served as Director-Counsel. Consistently and without fail, Clarence eagerly and positively responded to every request made of him to serve LDF. Moreover, with his customary insight and perceptiveness Clarence routinely provided invaluable assistance whenever he saw an LDF need that he could meet. For example: the extravagant galas that he and his best buddy Quincy Jones threw for LDF in both Washington DC and Hollywood made a huge difference in the bottom line as LDF fought a wave of civil rights cases.
“Clarence Avant wore his humanity well. Those of us who had the good fortune to interact with him were beneficiaries of his kindness, his generosity, his sage advice and his very strong helping hand. He had deep insights into human behavior and he was fully engaged in always seeking principled fairness.
“The life Clarence led was a shining light-a beacon. He was “sui generis”—one of a kind. Whenever I think of him it is always with a wide smile and a grateful heart. I am grateful to Clarence for actively serving on the LDF Board throughout my leadership and for many years prior. His committed dedicated unselfish service helped strengthen LDF in fulfilling its critical mission. Our deepest sympathy to his loving family and his legions of friends and admirers. Rest in Peace, My Faithful Friend. Rest in Peace.”
LDF Director Emeritus Billye Aaron:
“Clarence Avant is an irreplaceable figure in the Black community and in industry at large who selflessly served countless individuals. He rose to great heights from humble beginnings and was committed to lifting others on his ascent. He and his beloved late wife Jackie were close personal friends to me and my dear late husband Henry (“Hank”) Aaron. Clarence was instrumental in ensuring that Henry’s historic sports career was as highly valued as any others at a time when inequality among athletes was the norm. Clarence was an extraordinary man who will be sorely missed. I extend my heart to his children Nicole and Alexander.”
Founded in 1940, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) is the nation’s first civil rights law organization. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the Legal Defense Fund or LDF. Please note that LDF has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights.