As of Father’s Day, perhaps 13.
James Curtis of Las Vegas has stepped forward, claiming to be Brown’s son.
His mother, now deceased, met James Brown in Augusta juke joints and became pregnant with him when she was 13 years old, he said.
Brown was also a teen-ager at the time.
Curtis was born in 1951, which makes him—at age 61—Brown’s oldest child, if his claim is proven. He has offered to take a DNA test.
Curtis’s mother showed him pictures of the two of them together, and he always knew Brown was his father, he said.
At age 12, Curtis went to the Apollo Theater in New York, where Brown was performing, so that he could meet his father. “His band members and body guards pushed me aside,” he said.
Now Curtis would like to receive a share of Brown’s estate. “Something, anything—even a piece of jewelry. He didn’t provide anything for me through the years, and I want some compensation.”
Even if DNA proves that Curtis is Brown’s son, he may receive nothing from the Brown estate settlement—but he could benefit as Brown’s heir under Federal Copyright laws.
In Brown’s will, he left six named children his personal and household effects. They and Brown’s companion, Tommie Rae Hynie, challenged Brown’s estate plan and were included in a 2009 settlement deal forged by former S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster. The deal gave away over half of Brown’s music empire to the six claimed children and companion.
Brown’s estate plan left his entire music empire to the “I Feel Good” Trust, his education charity.
The deal has been appealed to the S.C. Supreme Court. Arguments were heard in November, but no decision has been issued. One reason for the appeal was that the McMaster deal stopped an ongoing procedure to determine who were Brown’s heirs under Federal Copyright laws. McMaster’s deal also exempted some claimed children from DNA testing.
The question of heirs is critically important because heirs have termination rights to Brown’s songs. That means after a certain number of years–but before copyrights expire–Brown’s heirs may be able to terminate or renegotiate them.
In a career that spanned 60 years, Brown copyrighted more than 850 songs.
Legitimate and illegitimate children have the same rights under Federal Copyright law, and James Brown was known to have had intimate relations with many women.
The original trustees of Brown’s estate set up a DNA protocol to determine Brown’s heirs, and three have been proven thus far: LaRhonda, Cinnamon and Jeanette.
There are others who have claimed to be heirs for whom testing has not been completed.
According to court filings, about half of Brown’s presumed or proven heirs were included in the settlement deal.
Curtis has not been in touch with his sisters in Augusta, but he has talked with LaRhonda, one of the three Brown children identified by the DNA protocol.
“She knew about me,” he said.
According to Curtis, he has not yet talked with an attorney.