Whitney Houston's back - as a hologram

NEW YORK • Since Whitney Houston died in 2012, her estate has been pitched every kind of entertainment deal, from jukebox musicals to a travelling museum.

Ms Pat Houston, the executor, has turned them all down.

But now the estate is open for business. It has lined up an extensive list of potential projects - including a touring hologram, a possible Broadway musical, branding deals and an album of unreleased tracks - intended to awaken the commercial potential of a dormant mega-celebrity brand.

"Everything is about timing for me," Ms Houston, the performer's sister-in-law and former manager, said in an interview. "It's been quite emotional for the past seven years. But now it's about being strategic."

Last week, the estate signed a deal with Primary Wave Music Publishing, a boutique music and marketing company in New York, to rebuild Whitney Houston's business.

As part of the agreement, Primary Wave will acquire 50 per cent of the estate's assets, which include the singer's royalties from music and film, merchandising and the right to exploit her name and likeness. The deal values the estate at US$14 million (S$19 million), according to two people familiar with the arrangement.

At her peak, Houston was a pop-culture juggernaut, with a golden voice and fashion-model looks. She had 11 No. 1 hits, sold tens of millions of albums around the world, and with the blockbuster film, The Bodyguard (1992), joined an elite category of stars with equal success in music and the movies.

But to some extent, the estate is looking to resuscitate her reputation.

When she died at age 48 in Beverly Hills, California, Houston's career as a hitmaker was long behind her and a public struggle with drugs had made her a tabloid fixture.

"Before she passed, there was so much negativity around the name. It wasn't about the music anymore," Ms Pat Houston said. "People had forgotten how great she was. They let all the personal things about her life outweigh why they fell in love with her in the first place."

Mr Larry Mestel, Primary Wave's founder, said he was already in discussions with Broadway producers about a musical and a Vegas-style spectacle. Unused tracks from her 1985 debut album, Whitney Houston, are likely to be part of a new album.

To do that, the estate and Primary Wave - which specialises in marketing classic song catalogues - would need to work with Sony, which owns Houston's recordings.

The estate's first project is the hologram, which would join a growing list of laser-generated posthumous singers who have gone on tour, including Maria Callas, Roy Orbison and Frank Zappa.

The Whitney hologram, already under development, will perform hits like I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) and The Greatest Love Of All, backed by her original band and backup singers - including her brother Gary, Ms Pat Houston's husband.

"The hologram has taken precedence over everything," Ms Houston said.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2019, with the headline 'Whitney Houston's back - as a hologram'. Print Edition | Subscribe