Two-time Oscar nominee Pharrell Williams (“Happy,” “Hidden Figures”) could be acknowledged again for the song he wrote and sings at the end of “The Black Godfather,” the Netflix documentary about Clarence Avant, the veteran music executive who has been influential in so many careers. Avant’s daughter Nicole (former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas), interested in a possible song for the end credits, invited Williams to a screening.
“I thought I knew this man’s legacy,” he says. “I knew that he was well respected in the music industry, but I didn’t know what got him that respect, the propulsion he put into so many careers, things that changed the trajectory for people of color.” He came up with a song in 6/8: “A lot of music when he started out was in 6/8, or in 4/4 but it was swinging,” Williams says. “I tried to use familiar elements but in a way that people hadn’t heard before,” including a wide array of sounds (real voices, live musicians, electronic manipulation) that represent popular music as heard throughout Avant’s 88 years.
It begins with an unusual “oo-oo-oo-oo” sound in the choir. “I wanted to mimic his facility to bring people together in a single note,” Williams says. He was inspired by the film’s graphic depiction of lines and circles connecting Avant to dozens of leading figures in music and politics (everyone from Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie to presidents Obama and Clinton to Jamie Foxx and Snoop Dogg). “Then when you hear the chord come together, that’s what it felt like to me, watching all these personal connections lead to this nucleus of a person, this big harmony of a human being.” “He’s our chandelier to bring the light,” Williams sings. He explains: “I wanted a metaphor for this guy who brought light to these often dark spaces, those rooms you’re often signing contracts in. The man was like a beautiful chandelier of great will.”