industry godfathers Quincy Jones or Clarence Avant. With more than 120 years of experience between them, these icons have paved the way for at least two generations of African Americans in Hollywood, including several of the individuals found on our list. For example, they have served as mentors to many of black Hollywood’s darlings including billionaire media titan Oprah Winfrey, box-office champ Will Smith, and versatile actress-rapper Queen Latifah.
has opened the doors that many young artists walk through today, including entertainment moguls Russell Simmons and Sean “Diddy” Combs. Even Quincy Jones is considered one of his protégés.
Part of Avant’s power comes from his longevity in Hollywood. His deal-making as a record executive is legendary. He’s guided the careers of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Stevie Wonder, and Boyz II Men. As CEO of Avant Garde and Interior Music Publishing, his music publishing enterprise, he continues to provide spiritual and professional guidance to young artists who call on him regularly.
His fingerprints can also be found on filmed entertainment, playing a role in such films as Jason’s Lyric, the drama produced by Doug McHenry and the late George Jackson; the Quincy Jones documentary, Listen Up; the 1973 concert film Save the Children; and the sit
com New Attitude. The former chairman of Motown Records has helped to guide the career of Queen Latifah through her ascent from musical artist to television actress to movie star. And Avant’s counsel is sought by Hollywood studio CEOs, who contact him when they are wrestling with casting decisions on film or television projects.
Avant is also a political power broker who has raised millions for the Democratic Party . Presidents, governors, and others follow his sage advice.
Avant strongly believes the next generation of power players in Hollywood is a force to be reckoned with. He points to this year’s Golden Globes, in which African Americans scored awards in the categories of: best motion picture—musical or comedy (Dreamgirls), best performance by an actor in a motion picture—drama (Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland), best performance by an actor in a supporting role in a motion picture (Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls), best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a motion picture (Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls), best television series—drama (Shonda Rhimes, Grey’s Anatomy), and best original song—motion picture (Prince, Happy Feet). Not only do these performers become major attractions to studio executives, he says, but they gain clout in selecting and producing their own projects. The byproduct is greater diversity in the industry as black talent demands the elevation of more black professionals. As this scenario unfolds, Avant will continue to play his invaluable role behind the scenes. — Carolyn M. Brown
Jones is the impresario. The Grammy Award-winning musician has worked with the hottest acts of four generations, from the legendary Count Basie to the electrifying Usher. As a film composer, he has scored a dozen television shows and more than 40 movies, including In The Heat of the Night (1967),