Clarence Avant has pretty much done it all in his career as a music executive. He has launched or guided the careers of numerous entertainment stars including, Quincy Jones, Bill Withers, Dennis Coffey, The Presidents, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. He is former chairman of Motown and once owned record labels Sussex and Tabu. He even made an appearance in the movie "The Color Purple."
He's a known and well respected figure among those in the entertainment industry, but he's far from a household name. And he likes it that way.
"I grew up in the record business - over 40 years I been in it - and one thing I've learned in all that time is that you don't say nothing," Avant said in a chapter he contributed to "Q, The Autobiography of Quincy Jones."
What Avant knows would fill volumes of books. In an issue of Billboard magazine devoted to his career, some admirers took out a full-page ad and asked Avant to write one. He didn't say yes. He didn't say no. He just didn't respond.
"I don't think he's reticent. It sounds like he doesn't want to be bothered," said Andy Kellman, assistant editor at Allmusic.com.
"I had heard his name and read about him, that with the Sussex and Tabu labels, he went from helping Bill Withers to giving Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis their first break with the SOS Band. Billboard last year had a story about him and put him on the front and that was the first picture I ever saw of him," Kellman told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
That Feb. 11, 2006, issue of Billboard magazine was dedicated to Avant for his birthday and included congratulations, some in the form of full-page ads, from a number of celebrities and entertainment industry players.
"When you get someone like Quincy Jones calling you the godfather of the industry, that's pretty big," Kellman said.
"The fact that he's not a household name says a lot about him and his humility," Jimmy Jam Harris told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "Behind the scenes moves mountains."
Harris said his relationship with Avant dates back to 1982, when he and business partner Terry Lewis went to Los Angeles to meet Avant after a tour with The Time, of which they were both members.
"We had a meeting with him, and actually our manager went in first to talk to him. Clarence came out and said, You guys come in, and leave your manager outside.' I thought, 'Man, he must have asked for too much.' We went in, and Clarence said, Your manager sold you short; you're worth more than that. Here's what I'm gonna offer you, and this is what I want to do.' And we knew right there we were dealing with an honest man."
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis went on to produce for the SOS Band, and their first big hit for the group was the 1983 smash, "Just Be Good To Me."
Besides launching the pair as hitmakers, Harris said Avant continued to mentor them.
"He talked us out of a bad publishing deal we were about to enter" and encouraged them to prepare and groom themselves to take the baton from industry pioneers such as Avant and Berry Gordy.
"We really took that to heart and decided to try to put ourselves in the position where we wouldn't be Clarence necessarily, but we would be able to help other people," Harris said.
In the late 1960s, Avant successfully engineered the first joint venture between a black American recording artist and a major record company. Under his labels, he signed Bill Withers, Dennis Coffey and The Presidents.