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James Brown’s Estate Sold to Primary Wave Music

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

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. 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. 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. 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.” James Joseph Brown (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006) was the central progenitor of funk music and a major figure of 20th century music, he is often referred to by the honorific nicknames "Godfather of Soul", "Mr. Dynamite", and "Soul Brother No. 1". In a career that lasted over 50 years, he influenced the development of several music genres. Brown was one of the first 10 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at its inaugural induction in New York on January 23, 1986.

James Brown began his career as a gospel singer in Toccoa, Georgia. He came to national public attention in the mid-1950s as the lead singer of the Famous Flames, a rhythm and blues vocal group founded by Bobby Byrd. With the hit ballads "Please, Please, Please" and "Try Me", Brown built a reputation as a dynamic live performer with the Famous Flames and his backing band, sometimes known as the James Brown Band or the James Brown Orchestra. His success peaked in the 1960s with the live album Live at the Apollo and hit singles such as "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag", "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "It's a Man's Man's Man's World". During the late 1960s, Brown moved from a continuum of blues and gospel-based forms and styles to a profoundly "Africanized" approach to music-making, emphasizing stripped-down interlocking rhythms that influenced the development of funk music. By the early 1970s, Brown had fully established the funk sound after the formation of the J.B.s with records such as "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine" and "The Payback". He also became noted for songs of social commentary, including the 1968 hit "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud". Brown continued to perform and record until his death from pneumonia in 2006. Brown recorded 17 singles that reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B charts. He also holds the record for the most singles listed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart that did not reach No. 1. Brown was inducted into the first class of the Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2013 as an artist and then in 2017 as a songwriter. He also received honors from several other institutions, including inductions into the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Brown is ranked No. 1 in The Top 500 Artists. He is ranked seventh on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. 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.”

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