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After 15 Years of Infighting, James Brown’s Estate Is Sold

One part of that tangle involved Tommie Rae Hynie, a singer whom Brown wed in 2001 but later learned was already married to another man. Even with her spousal status unclear, Ms. Hynie, along with five of Brown’s children, tried after Brown’s death to set aside his will and negotiate a settlement to give themselves significant shares of the estate.

They found a sympathetic attorney general in Mr. McMaster and a state judge who approved their agreement in 2009 — until South Carolina’s Supreme Court struck their settlement down four years later, calling it a “dismemberment of Brown’s carefully crafted estate plan.” (In 2020, that court ruled unanimously that Ms. Hynie was not Brown’s wife.)

For more than a decade, Brown’s heirs and estate administrators, including Mr. Bauknight and Adele Pope, a former executor, have battled in court over the value of his estate. Mr. Bauknight estimated it at about $5 million, but Ms. Pope, who was removed from her position in 2009, put it at $84 million. Asked if the recent sale had not supported Ms. Pope’s valuation, Mr. Bauknight defended it as accurate at the time of Brown’s death. He added that the value of the estate had grown over the years, and he cited the efforts of industry professionals he had hired to advise him.

The deal with Primary Wave has been in the works for nearly four years, and Mr. Bauknight said he had discussions with “a number of players.” Terms of the settlement are confidential, but Mr. Bauknight said the only beneficiaries of the estate are two trusts for education — one for Brown’s grandchildren, limited at about $2 million, and the other for needy children in South Carolina and Georgia, which was to receive the bulk of Brown’s estate — and the estate is not a party to Brown’s “termination rights,” or reclaimed songwriting copyrights.

To negotiate the acquisition of Brown’s estate, Mr. Mestel enlisted one of music’s legal heavyweights, John Branca, who was Michael Jackson’s longtime lawyer and is one of the executors of Jackson’s estate.

“It was complicated,” Mr. Branca said of the deal, “because James Brown was complicated.”

Primary Wave’s transaction leaves unresolved a longstanding legal fight between Mr. Bauknight and Ms. Pope, who have each accused the other of trying to profit from the estate.

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