Primary Wave Music has acquired the assets of the James Brown estate, including music rights, real estate and the control over the legendary artist’s name and likeness, for around $90 million, Variety has confirmed. The news was first reported by the New York Times.
Primary Wave will also continue a partnership with the estate, which will include several projects related to The James Brown 2000 Trust, which was established in 2000 by Mr. Brown for charitable and educational purposes. Brown had planned to leave the majority of his estate to scholarships for needy children, however that effort has been delayed by years of legal battles.
Larry Mestel, the founder of Primary Wave — which has made a number of major acquisitions over the past few years, including half of Whitney Houston’s estate, a majority stake in Prince’s catalog, as well as deals with Stevie Nicks and many others — is planning multiple new projects to honor Brown’s legacy and promote his music. Those may include a Broadway musical, television shows and the creation of a Graceland-like museum attraction at Brown’s mansion in South Carolina, he told the Times.
“James Brown was one of the greatest musical entertainers of all time, and one of the greatest legends of the music business,” Mestel said. “That fits what we do like a glove.”
The money from the transaction will be used to endow the Brown scholarship trust “in perpetuity,” Russell L. Bauknight, an accountant who has served as the estate’s executor, told the Times. He said that once the estate is closed, he will continue to work with Primary Wave as a member of a board handling some of Brown’s assets.
The deal includes a provision for Primary Wave to contribute what Mestel called a “small percentage” of some future deals to the scholarships, which are for underprivileged children in Brown’s home states of South Carolina and Georgia.
Since his death on Christmas Day, 2006, Brown’s estate has been embroiled in protracted legal battles that have cost millions of dollars, involving family members and his former partner, Tomi Rae Hynie; the family reached a settlement in July that presumably helped clear the way for this deal. Mestel enlisted John Branca, a veteran entertainment attorney long associated with Michael Jackson, to help negotiate the deal, which has been in the works for four years.
“It was complicated,” Branca told the Times of the deal, “because James Brown was complicated.”
Over the past 15 years Primary Wave has built a business working with creators or their estates to monetize not just song catalogs but artists-as-brands, involving everything from musicals to official sneakers. Their roster includes Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks — with whom they partnered in a reported $100 million deal last year — Sun Records, Bob Marley, Prince Smokey Robinson, Whitney Houston, Burt Bacharach, Ray Charles, Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, Aerosmith, War, Robbie Robertson, Count Basie, Sly & The Family Stone and more.