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‘She’s Still Touching Lives’: Who’s Behind the Revamping of Whitney Houston’s Brand and Estate

When Whitney Houston stepped onto the scene in 1985, she became an untouchable voice in R&B music. But throughout Houston’s career, she experienced personal and professional setbacks. When she died in 2012, her estate was in the red. In the years since Houston’s death, her sister-in-law Pat Houston, who manages Whitney’s estate, has worked diligently to restore the late singer’s image and her wealth. 

LAS VEGAS, NV ? SEPTEMBER 15: Singer Whitney Houston is seen performing on stage during the 2004 World Music Awards at the Thomas and Mack Center on September 15, 2004 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

How the Estate Grew

In 2019, Pat Houston partnered with the music publisher and marketer Primary Wave. The company would take a 50 percent stake in Houston’s assets. This included publishing, master recording revenue, use of her name and likeness and making Houston a reinvigorated brand. The deal supported Houston’s estate being valued at $14 million, which is expected to continue to rise. 

“It was time to rebuild Whitney’s business and Primary Wave, with its arsenal of industry professionals, were the right fit, a team packaged to elevate Whitney’s legacy to the next level,” Pat told Variety.

“With everything that’s going on right now, she’s still touching lives, and that’s what I want to do in a very positive way,” Pat told Billboard. “She should be remembered by her music and the work that she’s done in the community, not by her relationships. And the fact that all these things are happening proves that. It’s a clear path without any distractions to make things continue to happen for her legacy.”

The Biopic and Broadway

In December, the biopic “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” will be in movie theaters. It is the latest project to focus on Whitney Houston (after Angela Bassett’s Lifetime film Whitney). Actress Naomi Ackie stars as Houston and Stanley Tucci portrays music mogul Clive Davis, who is credited with guiding Whitney into super stardom. Black filmmaker Kasi Lemmons directs the Sony Pictures film. Davis is also producing the movie along with Pat and others. It is also co-produced by Primary Wave.

Primary Wave founder and CEO Larry Mestel told Variety he sees the film as the project that will expand even further and lead the way for projects on Broadway and in Las Vegas.

According to Mestel, Primary Wave is developing the Broadway adaptation of the biopic. Next will be Vegas.

“We’re in talks right now in Las Vegas to create a Whitney Houston Cirque-like destination show,” Mestel told Variety. “There are some very big things that we’re working on, including a cosmetic line, which is launching around the same time the film releases.”

New Projects On The Horizon 

Primary Wave has launched a series of deals for Houston’s estate. This fall, a partnership with MAC Cosmetics with come to fruition, while an archival book and perfume line will hit shelves to coincide with the release of the biopic. There is even a line of dolls.

A Focus On The Voice 

In 2019 Pat Houston arrived at Primary Wave’s office with unreleased music from Whitney Houston. One of these songs was Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love.” Primary Wave sent it to Kygo for a remix and it was remixed. By June of 2019, Houston, had her first Hot 100 debut in 10 years. The song spent nine weeks on the charts, surpassing hits such as “How Will I Know” and “Greatest Love of All.”  

“Truth be told, there were a lot of hurdles when we first got involved in the Whitney business,” Jeff Straughn, Primary Wave chief branding officer, told Billboard. “It’s an unbelievable talent that you do not want to mess up and you can’t afford to mess up. At the same time, because of life and how things pass, brands and companies didn’t want the association of the negative side. When we took on the Whitney estate, the first thing we looked at was, ‘She has a voice that people have forgotten. We’ve got to bring that voice back.’ ”

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