A-list Hollywood showed up in droves Monday night for a screening of “The Black Godfather,” a new documentary about music man Clarence Avant. What a group: Norman and Lynn Lear, Quincy Jones, Sean Combs, Jamie Foxx, Jimmy Kimmel, Leonardo DiCaprio, Laura Dern, Queen Latifah, Vince Vaughn, Diane Warren, Jennifer Aniston, Pharrell Williams, Ava DuVernay, Chadwick Boseman, former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, Courteney Cox, Holly Robinson-Peete, and more.
Reginald Hudlin directed, and Nicole Avant, Clarence’s talented daughter, produced. The famed Democratic fundraiser is also married to Netflix chief Ted Sarandos, so that’s where you’ll find “The Black Godfather” beginning this weekend.
Legendary music executive and producer Clarence Avant’s tentacles reach far and wide, mainly with music but in sports and politics as well. The premiere — held at Paramount Studios — showed Avant’s colorful, complicated life in all its star-studded glory. The idea to honor this legend and his influential life over the last 60 years was Nicole’s brainchild.
Ted introduced the film and after acknowledging he was married to the film’s producer he quipped, “Truth be told, this is a film that was getting made, this is a story that had to be told. What was I supposed to do? Let it go to HBO or something? That was not going to happen.” Ted went on to say, “It should not be surprising that Nicole produced a great film, Nicole produces greatness every day.”
The film’s director, Reginald Hudlin, explained that “this is a movie made out of love. Because Clarence, despite the fact that he’ll curse you out very quickly, is all about love. The amazing group of people who testify on his behalf were all happy to do because they love Clarence.”
And what a stellar bunch they are. In the film you’ll find Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Hank Aaron, Andrew Young, David Geffen, Senator Kamala Harris, Jamie Foxx, Irving Azoff, Sir Lucian Grainge, Cicely Tyson, Suzanne De Passe, Dolores Robinson, Diane Warren, Clive Davis and more. Clarence guided and helped the careers of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and L.A Reid, execs such as Sony/ATV Chairman/CEO Jon Platt. He discovered the great Bill Withers (“Lean on Me”) and so many more and stood up to powerful forces that tried to diminish those very black artists.
Stories that are woven in are fun and some poignant. Clarence’s now defunct label, Sussex, was named by combining Success and Sex! Clarence’s mantra is all about the numbers as well as connecting people. The film talks about his misses, nearly losing his house as well as his myriad successes. His son, entertainment executive Alex Avant talks eloquently about what a singular figure his father is. His eloquent, lovely classy wife Jacqueline is wise and funny.
Deep down Clarence is humble; not a braggart or self-promoter. His desire to use his divine savvy to further those he cares about and to make sure they are being dealt with “in a fair and just way,” clearly has been the motivating force behind his storied career.
The film ends with Clarence matter of fact explaining, “I’ve lived a good life. If I wake up tomorrow as Warren Buffett, I’d have a better life.”
Do not miss this. Like the man himself, “The Black Godfather” is one of a kind.
The film streams this Friday and is in limited theatrical release as well.
PS Soap opera fans may notice that Brad Bell, EP of “The Bold and the Beautiful,” on CBS, named a whole family for the Avants. That’s almost as good as a gold record!
Some of Clarence Avant’s hits on Sussex Records: