The “Godfather of Soul” James Brown would have turned 85 years old this week on May 3.
It’s incredible to think about the life he led and the legacy he has left behind.
But ever since his death in 2006, Augusta has yet been able to decide how to fully honor this local legend.
It’s sad. Shame on Augusta.
However, perhaps even worse is the fact that more than 11 years after Brown’s death, his estate still appears to be unsettled.
Earlier this year, The New York Times did an extensive story about the problems plaguing Brown’s estate.
“Not a penny has gone to any of the beneficiaries of his will, who include underprivileged children in Georgia and South Carolina, to whom Mr. Brown sought to donate millions, perhaps tens of millions, of dollars,” wrote New York Times reporter Steve Knopper in February. “More than a dozen lawsuits related to the estate have been filed since Mr. Brown died on Christmas Day in 2006.”
One of the lawsuits include nine of Brown’s children and grandchildren who are suing his widow, Tommie Ray Hynie, asserting that she made “illegal back-room agreements” with the estate involving copyrights to his songs.
And, of course, another lawsuit even challenged whether Hynie was legally his wife. Sadly, even his youngest son, James Brown II, is caught up in this legal mess.
Unbelievably, James Brown II is already 16 years old. (How many people remember seeing the young James Brown dancing up on stage with his father when he was just a toddler?)
But now James Brown II is fighting for his right to be viewed as a son and heir.
Apparently, the Godfather of Soul’s will is a complete mess. In fact, Jay Cooper, a lawyer who handles estates and has represented celebrities such as Katy Perry, Jerry Seinfeld and Etta James, told The New York Times that Brown’s will is like a “mini-series.”
“You really need a map to go through this whole thing,” he reportedly said.
According to the Times article, Brown’s will had set aside $2 million to underwrite scholarships for the grandchildren and it gave “his costumes and other household effects to the six children he recognized, a bequest thought to be worth perhaps another $2 million.”
However, the bulk of Brown’s estate was to be given over to the “I Feel Good Trust,” which he set up to distribute scholarships for children from South Carolina and Georgia.
Back when South Carolina’s current governor, Henry McMaster, was still the state attorney general, he tried to settle the dispute over Brown’s will.
He suggested that Brown’s children and grandchildren would receive a quarter of the estate and Hynie would receive another quarter.
But the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned that proposed settlement.
Basically, that put everything back to square one.
And, the scary truth is, no one really even knows the value of Brown’s estate.
“The administrators of the estate have suggested in court papers that it could be worth less than $5 million, but others have given estimates as high as $100 million,” The New York Times wrote in February.
But, obviously, the bulk of the estate’s value comes from his songs’ copyrights.
“In the new federal lawsuit, Mr. Brown’s children and grandchildren assert that Ms. Hynie sold her share of the termination rights to just five of Mr. Brown’s 900-some compositions to Warner/Chappell, a large song publisher, for nearly $1.9 million, a payday that would speak to the collection’s potential worth,” The New York Times reported. “The federal suit charges that Ms. Hynie and James Brown II made deals regarding these rights without fully informing Mr. Brown’s other children and grandchildren.”
Friends and family of the late Godfather of Soul said the entire situation is heartbreaking.
Daryl Brown, a son of James Brown who never challenged his father’s will, told the Times that he no longer had faith in the South Carolina justice system.
“This stuff wouldn’t happen to Elvis Presley,” he reportedly said.
Alan Leeds, the legendary tour manager for Brown from 1969 to 1974 as well as a manager for other famous artists such as Prince and and D’Angelo, told the Times that Brown’s will has become a no-win situation.
“Whatever good was going to come out of it that would benefit the community that James had originally intended — and whatever good would benefit his family, for that matter, was all jeopardized,” Leeds told the Times. “There are no winners in this.”
To think that “the hardest-working man in show business” has not been able to give a penny to any of his will’s beneficiaries is tragic.
The Godfather of Soul and his entire family deserve better.
Hopefully, the legal disputes over his estate can soon be settled and the Godfather of Soul can finally rest in peace.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Brown.
We all wish you were still here.