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James Brown Estate Sells Massive Rights Bundle to Primary Wave for $90 Million

The deal is in the ballpark of $90 million, and it includes a stake in Brown's publishing, master royalty income, name and likeness rights.

Primary Wave has announced another banner deal, this time with “Soul Brother No. 1” James Brown. In the deal — which is in the ballpark of $90 million, according to sources — Brown’s estate cedes a stake in his publishing, master royalty income, name and likeness rights.

This type of rights bundle is becoming Primary Wave’s bread and butter. In the last year, they have acquired the publishing, master income, name and likeness of other classic acts as well, including Luther Vandross and Teddy Pendergrass.


Deals of this magnitude, however, do not happen overnight. It has been a 15-year journey, since the date of Brown’s death, to reach this point. Tangled up in litigation since his death and, more recently, four years of negotiations with Primary Wave, selling to the rights holder has been a long time coming. His legendary, oft-sampled music will now join the likes of Whitney Houston and Prince in the gigantic Primary Wave catalog.

It has been Brown’s wish to leave the bulk of his holdings to scholarships for children in need, and by ceding his catalog to the music rights holder, his estate has taken a large step towards that goal. The monies from this acquisition will be used to endow a scholarship trust in Brown’s name “in perpetuity,” according to Russell L. Bauknight, fiduciary for the late singer’s estate, as he told to the New York Times.

Primary Wave intends to help the Brown estate grow the soul icon’s legacy even further, introducing the next generation to his greatness. Potential new avenues for growth include, TV shows and musicals, featuring Brown’s music and likeness as well as a possible museum attraction at Brown’s South Carolina mansion.

“The James Brown Estate and related Trust are very proud and excited to work with Larry Mestel and Primary Wave,” says Bauknight. “We believe our choice of professionals to take the James Brown legacy to the next level is going to prove to be one of the most successful events in Mr. Brown’s long history in show business.”

Larry Mestel, CEO and founder of Primary Wave adds, “I FEEL GOOD! Wow, I am awed that Primary Wave has been chosen by the estate of James Brown to partner with the Godfather of Soul. We are thrilled to help continue the expansion of his influence and further his legacy through both his music and The James Brown 2000 trust.”

One of music’s most decorated icons, James Brown began his career in the mid 1950s as lead singer in the Famous Flames. A consummate entertainer, the frontman became renowned for his charisma and energy on stage, leading to a taping of Live at the Apollo, which launched him into solo superstardom. Since then, he’s become one of the most heavily sampled and cited artists in history, and the portion of his catalog ceded to Primary Wave includes perennials like “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,”  “I Got You (I Feel Good),” and “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”