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Bo Diddley’s family gets OK to hire new estate trustee

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“It will be the way my father wanted it,” Anthony McDaniel said.

The family of late pioneering rocker-and-roller Bo Diddley of Archer won court approval to hire a new trustee of his estate, a move that could earn them a bigger share of the royalties he continues to earn.

Atlanta entertainment attorney Kendall Minter was approved in a signed decision on Jan. 22 by 8th Circuit Judge Monica Brasington. It effectively removes Gainesville Attorney Charles Littell as the trustee, said Charles David, the family’s attorney.

″(Minter) is a very professional, sophisticated guy in that industry who has worked with a lot of big names. He knows what to do with intellectual property and how to make the most of it for the trust beneficiaries,” David said. “The family is very excited about that prospect. He knows what to do with these songs to make them more popular and to make more income for the trust.”

This case was the latest in several legal entanglements the family has been through since Diddley died June 2, 2008, in his Archer home.

Anthony McDaniel, one of Diddley’s sons, said he may pursue additional legal action, but added he believes the hiring of Minter will begin getting the family what it is owed.

“It will be the way my father wanted it,” McDaniel said. “We may be able to get more transparency in our estate.”

Diddley was born Ellas B. McDaniel in Mississippi and raised in Chicago. He rose to stardom in the 1950s with a style of blues that became a forerunner of rock and roll. Its signature beat — the “Bo Diddley beat” — can be heard on hits such as “Bo Diddley” and on songs by artists including Buddy Holly, Elvis Pressley, David Bowie, Tom Petty and many more.

But like many artists of the era, Diddley lacked the business sense to get the most money from his talents. Instead, managers and agents often got rich off the artists — particularly black musicians — while the talent ended up with little.

Diddley’s family members contend that continued after his death. Managing Diddley’s career in the 1980s and 1990s were Faith Fusillo and Margo Lewis of New York City.

Bronson attorney Ronald Stevens wrote Diddley’s will and was appointed as trustee. The will gave Fusillo and Lewis a percentage of royalties through a contract they had with Diddley.

The family, however, alleged that Stevens, Fusillo and Lewis did not explain to Diddley that:

• It would be Stevens — and not the family — who would have control over his estate, including his music.

• Fusillo and Lewis would get 30 percent of anything that sold, including Diddley’s image, radio and television rights and — if they remain with the estate — royalties from his publishing rights.

• The family would divide the remaining 70 percent of royalties and fees among the 22 heirs.

Stevens declined to discuss the situation with The Sun.

Diddley’s heirs, particularly McDaniel and granddaughter Jatonne Mitchell, fought to keep ownership of the publishing rights of 311 songs, including his biggest hits, “I’m A Man,” “Who Do You Love” and “Love Is Strange.”

Stevens resigned as the estate’s trustee in 2016 but had the authority to appoint a new trustee. He appointed attorney Littell of Gainesville.

The motions filed by David on behalf of the family were to get Littell removed as trustee so the family could find a new trustee with better ties to the industry and who will better represent the family’s interests.

Among the contentions in the suit: Littell allowed Fusillo and Lewis to draw unreasonable commissions, Littell charged unreasonable rates and he failed to accurately report trust revenue.

Littell did not respond to a request for an interview by The Sun but said in court documents that the claims made by the family were misrepresentative.

Brasington in her ruling modified the terms of the trust, appointed Minter as trustee and gave the family control over naming future trustees.

“I feel they are in very good hands now,” David said, adding that it’s likely the agreement with Fusillo and Lewis will be modified in negotiations with Minter.

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