Friday, February 3, 2023

Jacqueline Avant helped black people combine politics and entertainment

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A few days after Thanksgiving, respected Watts “Sweet” community activist Alice Harris received a call. The woman on the other end of the line lived in the Tony Trousdale Estates in Beverly Hills and saw Harris handing out turkeys on TV for the holiday and talking about her next gift of bicycles to children in her working community.

“She said,“ I’m going to get a few of my friends together and we’ll help you get all these bikes for Christmas, ”Harris recalls, telling her Jacqueline Avant. “She didn’t want a loan. She did it with all her heart. She did it because it had to be done. “

Before she could complete her last act of generosity, Avant was fatally wounded Wednesday morning by an intruder at her home, a sudden demise that shocked the philanthropist’s friends, from South Los Angeles to the halls of Congress.

The 81-year-old Avant was best known as the wife of music industry titan Clarence Avant, dubbed in America as the “Godfather” of black music. But those close to the couple described her as a quiet force that helped her husband bring together influential figures in the world of sports, entertainment, and politics, usually for the less fortunate.

Often, it was Jackie, as her friends knew her, without pomp, organizing fundraising for schools and community groups, as well as for politicians, including Presidents Clinton and Obama, Governor Jerry Brown and Rep. Maxine Waters.

She and her husband were friends of these presidents and trusted President Carter so much that he sent African heads of state to visit the Avantas when they travel to Los Angeles.

“They were a typical team and undoubtedly the most influential African American couple in Southern California, if not the entire West Coast,” said Kerman Maddox, political consultant and friend of Avants for over four decades.

“She was just an amazing woman, a quiet giant,” said the great basketball player Magic Johnson. “She was not behind Clarence, she was next to him. She was a very intelligent woman, a very caring woman, a wonderful mother, a wonderful wife, and she was just nice to everyone. She had such a gentle touch. “

Avant was born Jacqueline Albert Gray on March 6, 1940 in Jamaica, Queens, New York. She became a model, including at the Ebony Fashion Fair, which introduced blacks to new styles. She met Clarence Avant when he was a promising talent manager whose clients included actress Cicely Tyson and jazz and R&B stars Little Willie John and Jimmy Smith. He urged her to ride a limousine and visit clubs such as Birdland and Apollo Theater.

In 1980, she told The Times: “I used to be lazy. I relied on my looks to get everything. There is more meaning in life now. “

After getting married in 1967 in New York, the newlyweds moved west, and in 1969 Clarence Avant founded Sussex Records.

Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Clarence met singer-songwriter Bill Withers, who had recently been fired from a production job at Weber Aircraft and hoped to become a musician. After listening to his demo, Avant signed with Withers and, when he was involved, teamed up with Booker T. Jones to create Withers’ debut album, Just as I Am. It includes the now classic song Ain’t No Sunshine.

“It brings people together, and they do what they do,” Withers said in The Black Godfather, a 2019 Netlfix documentary on the life of Avant.

The Avant label closed in 1975, but opened Tabu Records in 1979 and achieved platinum success in the 1980s and 90s with R&B artists including SOS Band, Alexander O’Neal and Babyface.

He called on young entrepreneurs to strengthen their power and influence. Platinum production group Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis explored the business under Avant’s leadership, and rapper and businessman Sean Combs has long cited Avant’s leadership as one of the keys to his success. In May, Avant was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. With his wife in the audience, he received a standing ovation.

By the 1970s and 80s, the Avants were at the center of Los Angeles’s heady scene. They spent a staggering $ 26,000 to help elect Tom Bradley as the city’s first and so far only black mayor. They also supported Assembly Speaker Willie Brown and many African American politicians who once made up a third of the 15-member Los Angeles City Council.

When Avants weren’t collecting or making political donations, Clarence made sure political organizers had access to concerts like Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire, ensuring more political registrations.

“You had the intersection of music, entertainment and politics,” said Maddox, who has worked for Bradley and Waters in particular. “For me, this was the golden era of black politics in Los Angeles. And Clarence and Avants were glue.

Jackie Avant has worked for many charities over the years, including the UCLA International Student Center (now the UCLA Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars), the National Women’s Entertainment Organization and the Neighbors of Watts chapter.

She also worked as an assistant professor at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, developing a particular interest in Japanese art and artifacts and creating her own significant collection of these treasures.

Ken Solomon, president of the Tennis Channel and a major fundraiser for Democratic candidates, described how Avants “traveled effortlessly between artists and kings.” He called Jackie Avant “the queen of the people.”

Close friend Mattie McFadden-Lawson and her husband Michael had dinner at the Avants home just a week before the murder. “She was really looking forward to the next leg of her journey,” McFadden-Lawson said. “She spoke of so many blessings for which she was grateful.”

Avant’s son, Alex, is the CEO of CAA, a giant talent agency. Their daughter Nicole joined the recording industry, including with her father’s company. She later became co-chair of Barack Obama’s Southern California fundraising initiative and then Obama’s ambassador to the Bahamas. She is married to one of the Netflix executives, Ted Sarandos.

In an interview with Spectrum News 1, Nicole Avant recalled that celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Harry Belafonte and Hank Aaron made regular appearances at her parents’ house. A common chorus among her parents and these friends was the importance of helping the next generation.

The youngest Avant said that her parents constantly said: “You must be able to pass this baton to the people behind you … to keep things going.”

Nation World News Desk
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