Netflix got a documentary about Clarence Avant. Judging from The Black Godfather title, one might think my man was some kind of 20th century crime capo or father figure for a gaggle of now-famous personalities. Or something like that.
So, one would be both right and wrong to categorize Avant in the same breath as Clive Davis or Barry Gordy–oh, I know what you thinking: Kalamu, you can’t just say a sentence like that without breaking it down. But that is why I am urging you to check out the documentary. I don’t have to do it because Netflix does it far better than I, plus they got in person testimonials from a diverse collection of influential figures.
I first heard the Avant name-checked on a Bill Withers album, but I didn’t know who the head of Sussex Records was, nor did I know where the very name “Sussex” came front. Well the doc does an admirable job of breaking it all down.
Avant does not look like a mogul, a visionary, a Svengali of the music industry, but then reality always has a way of confounding our presumptions and assumptions. Mr. Avant resembles nothing so much as your Uncle Albert who is always sipping on a shot-glass taste of room-temperature, mellow scotch whilst pontificating about the relationship of monetary success and sexual success. You may not believe the entirety of half the stories he tells, but he is so convincing, ’til you got to raise your mug and say “I’ll drink to that”.
Like Ralph Ellison’s fable little man whom he envisioned in a train station, the company apparatchik who kept the depot doing all the necessary functions so that as the trains pulled in and out, everything ran smoothly, including shipping out what had to be sent around the world, and receiving passengers and parcels from whence so ever they were from. Avant was adept at hooking people up and making sure diverse people operated when and how they were supposed to. Consider him the workings of an expertly crafted watch, except he wasn’t some archetypical mad scientist, he was, if you just glanced at him, an unassuming, little negro man, but my, my, my, he sure did know how to work a show.
Hail Clarence Avant, it would be a great blessing for any of us to have half his talents.