Clarence Avant’s name may not conjure the same level of celebrity as fellow NAACP hall of famers Aretha Franklin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Oprah Winfrey, but that’s only because the pioneering record executive exerted most of his influence behind the scenes. “I think it’s great,” says Avant, who just turned 79. Then, with characteristic bluntness, he adds: “What else do you want me to say?”
As his distinguished career suggests, this is not a man who minces words. Among Avant’s achievements is the creation of the aptly named Venture Records, the first joint venture between an African-American and a major record company (in this case, MGM).
He later established one of Los Angeles’ first black-owned FM stations, KAGB, and served as exec producer of the 1973 documentary/concert film “Save the Children.” And then there was his long stint at Motown Records and its parent company, Polygram, where he fought for other African-Americans to hold exec positions in the industry.
Avant has been less in the spotlight lately, but that doesn’t mean he’s left the stage. “You’re never really retired,” he insists. “Has Clive Davis retired, or Doug Morris? I’m the same thing. You go on till there’s no room for you to do anything else but die. So I stay active. I’m not trying to rush it.”