What Happened To Muddy Waters' Estate After His Death?

In 1983, acclaimed blues musician Muddy Waters died in his sleep from cancer-related complications. Prior to his death, the influential singer, guitarist, and harmonica player, who was widely credited with innovating the electric, post-Word War II Chicago blues sound, named long-time manager Scott Cameron the executor of his estate. At the time that he died, Waters' net worth was roughly $5 million, or about $14.2 million in today's money (via Dollar Times). The majority of Waters' assets (born McKinley Morganfield around 1913, per Britannica) were then to be split between his wife, his four children, and a great-granddaughter, per his will, based on reporting from the Chicago Tribune.

Cameron, who died in 2015, was also tasked by Waters with maintaining all copyright, royalty, and publishing income from Waters' music, and he also continued to manage Waters' brand and legacy. Interest in the six-time Grammy Award-winning artist remains strong to this day (via AllMusic). In 2010, Waters' relatives drafted a letter to The Cameron Organization, run by Cameron. In the letter, the Morganfield family expressed their dismay at a decline in revenue from Waters' catalog, and, in their view, no proper accounting for where all that money had gone. The ensuing legal battle between the two parties would keep the Waters' estate unsettled for more than three decades.

In 2018 Waters' daughter brought a lawsuit against Cameron's company

In the eyes of the court, the Muddy Waters' estate was first settled in 1987. After the 2010 letter drafted to the Cameron company from the Morganfields relating to Waters' asset management, the late musician's family petitioned to reopen the estate. They claim it was improperly handled, and they wished to investigate the status and value of assets that remained in the possession of Cameron's company. Based on their petition, the Morganfield family alleged that Cameron had pocketed some $2 million in royalty payments from 2008 to 2014, which they were owed. Though managed by Cameron, all earnings from the Waters' catalog, would be distributed to the Morganfield family twice a year, as Waters outlined in his will, according to Wealth Management.

Even though Cameron's defense attorneys claimed the suit was beyond the statute of limitations for such a case, the Waters' estate was reopened. In their response, attorneys representing The Cameron Organization claimed that the music management company — which was at that point operated by Scott Cameron's widow, Elizabeth Cameron — did nothing wrong, and that the company paid millions in royalties to the Morganfield family since the Waters' estate was first settled, as the Chicago Tribune also reported. Nonetheless, the Morganfield family petitioned the court to return all Waters' assets to their purview.

Scott Cameron's widow disputes the ruling

As of 2018, the Muddy Waters' estate remained locked up in court, according to the Chicago Tribune, and as of this report, the status of his estate remains uncertain. Cameron's widow, Elizabeth Cameron, who now lives in Florida, chose to represent herself in the case. Per Cameron's defense, Waters' dying wish was for his catalog, royalties, and copyrights, to be managed by the Cameron Organization, and to return that property to the Morganfield family would violate those conditions. 

Cameron's defense attorneys also claim the estate should never have been reopened in the first place, per the statute of limitations having expired, as Wealth Management notes. Cameron also alleges that two rare guitars that Waters wished to be donated to a museum remain in the possession of the Morganfields. For this reason, those guitars should be returned to The Cameron Organization.