Jacqueline Avant, a Los Angeles philanthropist and wife of legendary music producer Clarence Avant, was shot and killed in her Beverly Hills home early Wednesday, police said.
Officers responded to a call of a shooting in the 1100 block of Maytor Place shortly before 2:30 a.m., according to Lt. Giovanni Trejo of the Beverly Hills Police Department. They found Avant, 81, with a gunshot wound.
She was taken to Cedars-Sinai Hospital, where she later died, Beverly Hills Police Chief Mark Stainbrook said during a news conference Wednesday.
It is too soon to classify the incident as a home invasion or a follow-home robbery, Stainbrook said, but he did not think it was a "random attack."
"The motives in this case are still unknown, and we're investigating all possible motives," he said. "We will not speculate on anything that's out there, including if this was a robbery attempt or not."
Stainbrook, who was sworn in as police chief Tuesday, shared few other details. He did confirm that Clarence Avant and a security guard were home at the time of the shooting. No one else was injured, he said.
Stainbrook said it was too soon to tell whether anything had been taken from the home. The area has many security cameras, both public and private, that may contain relevant evidence.
Law enforcement sources told The Times that at least one robber made it into the home before the shooting. Aerial video of the scene Wednesday showed a sliding glass door that appeared to have been shattered.
Jacqueline Avant has been a prominent Los Angeles philanthropist over the decades, notably in support of the UCLA International Student Center.
She served at one time as the president of the Neighbors of Watts, a support group for the South Central Community Child Care Center, and as entertainment chairman of the NOW benefit auction.
Her husband is a legendary figure in the music industry, working with or advising such stars as Jimmy Smith, Lalo Schifrin, Babyface, Bill Withers, Sixto Rodriguez, the SOS Band and Cherrelle.
Known as the "Black Godfather," he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2016 and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2021.
A Times story in 2019 described Clarence Avant as a "poor kid from Depression-era North Carolina who rose to become a behind-the-scenes titan of managing, deal making and problem solving across the spectrum of Black entertainment — from a previous era’s jazz and soul royalty to today’s R&B/rap empires, with sports and politics thrown in for good measure."
The couple met in the mid-1960s, when Jacqueline was modeling as part of the traveling Ebony Fashion Fair aimed at introducing new styles to Black communities. They were married in 1967 and had two children, Nicole and Alex.
By mid-morning Wednesday, tributes had begun pouring in.
"Cookie and I are absolutely devastated at the loss of one of our closest friends Jackie Avant," Los Angeles Laker legend Magic Johnson said on Twitter. "This is the saddest day in our lives."
Reginald Hudlin, who directed a 2019 documentary about Clarence Avant, described Jacqueline as "a universally loved and admired role model in our community and in our lives" and said he was devastated by the news.
"Jackie was the epitome of grace, elegance, kindness, and good taste," Hudlin said in a statement. "Our hearts go out to her devoted husband Clarence, their children Nicole and Alex, and their entire family. Like so many people in Hollywood, I owe so much to the mentorship and generosity of Clarence and Jackie. This is a senseless tragedy that has our entire industry reeling, confused and heartbroken."
Stainbrook, the police chief, called it "a difficult day for our city."
He read a statement from the Avants thanking the public for their "outpouring of love, support and condolences."
"Jacqueline was an amazing woman, wife, mother, philanthropist and 55-year resident of Beverly Hills who has made an immeasurable, positive contribution and impact on the arts community," the statement said. "She will be missed by her family, friends and all of the people she has helped through her amazing life."
The shooting comes amid growing concerns over a string of follow-home robberies in affluent neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area.
In November, a crew of masked robbers tracked actor and former BET host Terrence Jenkins to his Sherman Oaks home and attempted to block his car in with an SUV, but he was able to flee in his car as shots were fired.
In October, masked robbers made off with as much as $1 million in valuables from the Encino mansion of "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Dorit Kemsley.
Last week, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore announced he was setting up a task force to deal with the follow-home robberies, saying the department had not seen violent hold-ups “like this in decades.”
The department is already investigating at least 133 such robberies from areas including the Sunset Strip, Melrose Avenue, the Jewelry District and Westside shopping areas.
The trend, which has targeted celebrities and upscale restaurants in recent months, turned deadly in the predawn hours Nov. 23 when a man was gunned down during an attempted robbery outside Bossa Nova restaurant in Hollywood.
On Wednesday, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) described Avant as "a force of compassion and empowerment locally and nationally" and called for those responsible for her death to be held accountable.
"The devastating events of last night along with recent reports of brazen crime in Los Angeles rupture the expectation of safety we have for our friends, families and fellow Angelenos," Bass said in a statement. "Whether you are in South Los Angeles or Beverly Hills, all of us have a right to be safe and last night was an absolute violation of that right."
Los Angeles Sentinel owner Danny Bakewell Sr. said in a published statement Wednesday that Clarence Avant was "currently grieving but resting with his family."
"There are no [two] more kind and generous people than Clarence and Jackie and for their home and their lives to be violated in such a violent manner is unconscionable," he said. "My thoughts and prayers go out to them and their children as we all work to get through this most difficult time."
The Avants have been major figures in both music and politics.
Their daughter, Nicole Avant, served as U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas during President Barack Obama's administration and is married to Ted Sarandos, co-chief executive and chief content officer for Netflix. In 2007, she described her parents' deep ties to Democratic leaders, including Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Former President Clinton was among those who paid tribute to Avant after the shooting, tweeting that she was "a wonderful woman, a great partner to Clarence and mother to Alex and Nicole, an active citizen & a dear friend to Hillary and me for 30 years."
"She inspired admiration, respect & affection in everyone who knew her," Clinton said. "We are heartbroken. She will be deeply missed."
Nicole remembered "President Jimmy Carter and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley working the crowds in the family’s living room. [Future California Gov.] Gray Davis, just starting his own political career, had a small office in the ’70s at her father’s record company. Gov. Jerry Brown was a frequent visitor at the family’s Beverly Hills estate."
On Wednesday, yellow police tape blocked off the area around Maytor Place, where mansions in the tony Trousdale Estates are nestled in dense vegetation and set back far from the street behind long driveways.
Vida Ardevilchi, who lives in the neighborhood, said she would often see Jacqueline and Clarence Avant while they went out for walks.
"Lovely lady. Amazing people," Ardevilchi said. "I can't believe this is happening. God bless her soul."
She said there have been a lot of break-ins recently, but never a killing like this.
Times staff writers Christie D'Zurilla and Randall Roberts contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.