Chuck Berry’s first studio album in 40 years was in the works, when he died. In addition, his unusual for the time ownership of publishing rights to his musical catalog, means that his heirs are likely to reap profits from the Father of Rock for generations to come.
Trust Advisor recently asked the important question: “Who’ll Reap The Millions From Chuck Berry’s Final Album?”
Berry left about $15-$20 million behind, which he built up by working deep into old age. Chuck was still touring in his mid-80s. He never really retired. Therefore, with cash coming in, he never really spent down his liquid assets, as if he’d retired earlier.
His wife Themetta can claim at least half of the cash and a 50% share in the intellectual property. She’ll get much more, if a will is located. She was married to him for 68 years. As a result, there was no expensive divorce settlement in Berry’s past, meaning that his net worth could grow over the decades.
When self-made millionaires keep operating the “family business” until they die, their heirs want to know how to turn the enterprise into cash.
Chuck Berry wrote about 1,400 songs under his name. These songs were recorded 6,600 times by various artists. Unlike many mid-century music pioneers, he also kept the publishing rights. Each time anyone records “Maybellene” or anything in his catalog, his standing arrangement demanded 9-10 cents per unit sold.
Licensing the actual tracks for advertising cost more.
Chuck was also working on his first album of new material since 1979. Finished or not, if it’s sold as a memorial, it’ll probably sell like David Bowie’s final release, which generated about $700,000 for the Starman’s estate in the first week.
If handled properly and without the costly drama that accompanies many celebrity estates, it is possible that the Berry catalog could be the start of a dynastic trust to benefit generations of Berrys to come. Both Elvis and Jimi Hendrix’s estates have continued to generate millions in licensing and merchandizing, showing that there’s great wealth to be had in simple nostalgia.
Reference: Trust Advisor (March 20, 2017) “Who’ll Reap The Millions From Chuck Berry’s Final Album?”