After 15 years of court battles, the rights to James Brown’s estate has been sold, the New York Times reports. Primary Wave Music, a company that specializes in marketing estates and song catalogs, has purchased all of Brown's remaining assets. The terms of the agreement include ownership over Brown’s estate, music rights, and control over how his name and likeness are used.
For nearly four years, Brown’s estate and Primary Wave have been working on the deal. Although the price of the transaction was not disclosed, it is estimated that the estate was sold for around $90 million. The proceeds from the deal will be used to endow the Brown scholarship trust “in perpetuity,” said Russell L. Bauknight, a public accountant who has served as executor of the estate since 2009.
Larry Mestel, the founder of Primary Wave, who made a similar deal for half of Whitney Houston’s estate, and owns the largest interest in Prince’s, is already planning several projects to honor Brown’s musical legacy and to introduce his new music to a brand new audience. He mentioned the possibility of television shows, a Broadway musical, and the creation of a Graceland-like museum housed in Brown's mansion in South Carolina.
“It’s time to bring in someone of Larry’s expertise to take it to the next level,” Bauknight said. “We’re looking at this as more of a partnership moving forward.”
The deal also includes a special provision for Primary Wave to contribute a “small percentage” of some future deals to the scholarships, which are for underprivileged children in South Carolina, where Brown was born, and Georgia, where the musician grew up.
Bauknight added that he hoped that the first scholarships would be awarded by the end of next year.
John Branca, who was Michael Jackson’s longtime lawyer and is one of the executors of Jackson’s estate, negotiated the deal.
“It was complicated,” Branca said of the acquisition, “because James Brown was complicated.”
Brown’s heirs and estate administrators, as well as Bauknight and Adele Pope, a former executor, have battled in court over the value of his estate for over a decade. Bauknight estimated the estate to be worth $5 million while Pope valued it at close to $85 million. Bauknight said that his estimation was accurate at the time of Brown’s death and the value of the estate had increased exponentially over the years.
Additionally, Brown’s children had hoped to negotiate a settlement that would give them “significant shares of the estate,” bypassing his final wishes. In 2009 by a South Carolina state judge and former Attorney General (now Governor), Henry McMaster agreed with Brown’s children but the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned the settlement in 2013, on the grounds that it was a “dismemberment of Brown’s carefully crafted estate plan.”
Mestel believes that his expertise is tailor-made to market and promote the legacy of “The Godfather of Soul.”
“James Brown was one of the greatest musical entertainers of all time, and one of the greatest legends of the music business,” Mestel said in an interview. “That fits what we do like a glove.”