How the business of Whitney Houston is expanding with merch, music, the biopic and a Broadway show

How the business of Whitney Houston is expanding with merch, music, the biopic and a Broadway show

A new Whitney Houston album drops today (March 24) - I Go To The Rock brings together the late music icon’s gospel recordings.

The record, which is released by Gaither Music Group, Arista/Legacy Recordings and the estate of Whitney Houston, features 15 tracks, including six previously unreleased songs. It is accompanied by a documentary that airs on US TV today.

This is the latest step in a long-term plan to support the musical legacy of Whitney Houston and build the business across recordings, audiovisual, performance and brands - a project overseen by Primary Wave in partnership with the estate. 

The new album follows the success of the biopic, Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody, released at the end of 2022. The movie has boosted audio streaming consumption for the artist’s catalogue. A decade on from its release, the hits collection I Will Always Love You - The Best Of Whitney Houston secured a new peak of No.13 this year. 

The film’s title track is approaching a billion streams on Spotify, where Houston has 22.6 million monthly listeners. Her cover of Higher Love, which was reworked by Kygo in 2019, is on around 790m Spotify streams. 

Higher Love was the start of a five-year plan, following Primary Wave’s investment in 2019 alongside the estate in Houston’s publishing, master recording income, name, likeness and brand.

“The goal from the beginning in that first 12-month period of partnership was that we needed to identify a new Whitney Houston piece of music,” said Primary Wave Music chief marketing officer Adam Lowenberg. “Our whole plan was centred around Whitney Houston as arguably the greatest female voice of all time. We knew it was imperative to have some form of new music in the marketplace to help kickstart everything else that we wanted to do. 

“So when we first heard her version of Higher Love from 1990, and we knew that release was so limited [at the time], we realised we had something. And then getting Kygo, that accelerated everything - so it really jump-started the entire marketing plan.”

Higher Love peaked at No.2 in the UK in September 2019 and has sales to date of 1,770,360 (based on more than 178m audio streams), according to the Official Charts Company.

In the 60th year of Whitney Houston’s birth, Primary Wave marked the celebrations during Grammys Week with an artist showcase featuring covers of her songs. 

“We were very strategic in looking at all of those touch points and tent poles,” said Lowenberg. “This is the greatest female voice. So our branding team went out and secured massive deals [which launched around the movie].”

The Grammys week event brought in brands including Sony Electronics, ProFlowers, MAC Cosmetics and City National Bank. 

It’s making sure that new generations of consumers and fans appreciate how important Whitney Houston was to music

Adam Lowenberg

Lowenberg said that fans had been “underserved” when it came to official merchandise. Primary Wave cut a new deal early on and, according to the exec, saw a dramatic increase in revenue within six months.

Product launches range from a Funko POP doll to the Whitney Houston fragrance.

“We have the Funko doll, which is really cool,” said Lowenberg. “The other merchandise is really a lot of the traditional hoodies and t-shirts, which wasn't being maximised [prior to the Primary Wave deal]. So now being able to go into a Target or a Walmart and see a Whitney Houston t-shirt, and have Whitney Houston back in the zeitgeist, that's all of our doing. Again, it’s just another component in the entire plan. You probably will see more Whitney licensed, branded material like the Funko doll, the cosmetic line and the fragrance.”

While releases such as Higher Love have been building Whitney Houston on DSPs, Primary Wave is also working with Sony Music to keep serving the dedicated fanbase with physical and streaming releases, such as the new album, I Go To The Rock: The Gospel Music Of Whitney Houston.

Pat Houston, executor of the Estate of Whitney E. Houston, said in a statement: "Whitney Houston's impact on the world of music is immeasurable, and her gospel roots were a significant part of her talent and legacy. We are thrilled to bring this project to her fans, old and new."

“It was part of our strategy from the beginning - we don't want to forget or not serve the original Whitney fanbase, that would be foolish,” said Lowenberg. “So I think the gospel project is going to blow people away. This is how Whitney started and there's never been a full collection of all the gospel material, some of which we've found in the archives. So that's another element in the entire plan.”

There’s also talk about a live album at some point, likely in 2024, as well as activity around key anniversaries. The gospel album follows the vinyl reissue of the 1987 album Whitney last month.

“Our relationship with Sony Legacy [Recordings], who have all the catalogue, is fantastic,” added Lowenberg. “They have been tremendous partners. We're constantly working with Sony Legacy to come up with new packages, and come up with new ways to continue to have Whitney's music omnipresent.” 

Following the 60th birthday celebrations, the next big project is a Broadway musical, alongside plans for a Las Vegas tribute show. 

Primary Wave has started developing the Broadway adaptation of the Whitney Houston film with Sonia Friedman, the theatrical producer associated with shows including Book Of Mormon and Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. It is likely to launch in late 2024 or early 2025

“The next tent pole will be taking the biopic to Broadway,” said Lowenberg. “It’s a great case study for how Primary Wave really goes into artist redevelopment. It's taking this brand and making sure that new generations of consumers and fans don’t just know Whitney Houston, but appreciate and understand how important she was to music.”


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