Universal Acquires Frank Zappa Estate, Including Music Catalog and ‘The Vault’

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Universal Music Group (UMG) acquired Frank Zappa’s estate, including his catalog of songs and other recordings, in addition to the contents of The Vault, a storage facility that houses the late artist’s life work. 

Under the agreement with The Zappa Trust of Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet, and Diva Zappa, and headed by his widow Gail, UMG will oversee and manage Zappa’s musical career, spanning four decades, including songs “Watermelon In Easter Hay,” “Peaches En Regalia,” “Uncle Remus,” “Joe’s Garage,” “Cosmik Debris,” and hundreds more within his catalog.

“Ten years ago, Gail Zappa partnered with UMe to bring Frank Zappa’s music into the digital era and help expand the Frank Zappa business around the world, setting in motion a fruitful partnership that has resulted in exponential growth,” said The Zappa Trust in a statement. “Together over the last decade we made Frank’s vast catalog of music available for streaming and download, reissued many of his pivotal albums on vinyl, created a slew of exciting archival releases and expansive box sets, including a series celebrating FZ’s legendary Halloween concerts, and were nominated for a Grammy for the ‘200 Motels (The Suites)’ orchestral album.”

Zappa, who died in 1993 at the age of 52 from prostate cancer was a singer-songwriter, activist, composer, guitarist, artist’s rights champion, an advocate for anti-censorship, and even served as ambassador to Czechoslovakia at one point. In 1995, Zappa was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and given the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award from the Recording Academy in 1997.

Photo: Emerson-Loew

Throughout the past decade, UMe has worked with Zappa Trust to release a collection of archival releases, vinyl reissues, streaming initiatives, and more. In 2012, Zappa Records and the Zappa Trust made Zappa’s entire recorded catalog available digitally for the first time through a partnership with UMe. 

By 2015, a licensing agreement expanded their partnership with new initiatives around product releases, trademark licensing, film, and theatrical production. Alex Winter’s 2020 feature documentary Zappa also featured a soundtrack of Zappa’s music provided by UMe.

An obsessive documenter, Zappa recorded nearly every rehearsal, live performance, and jam session on audio and video formats throughout his life and stored them in The Vault. UMG will explore The Vault and archival projects and will also use Zappa’s name and likeness to engage new and existing fans through film, merchandise, feature films, interactive experiences, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and other Web3 projects.

At the time of his death, Zappa had more than 60 posthumous releases, including Civilization Phaze III in 1992, and Dance Me This, which was released in 2015 as his 100th album.

“UMG have more than proven their passion for Frank’s art and so the entire Zappa family is thrilled to pass the baton to the new forever stewards for all things Frank Zappa,” said the Zappa Trust. “Old and new fans will get more of what they want – more Frank Zappa music for years to come. Frank released his first album with Verve Records in 1966 with The Mothers Of Invention’s debut album, Freak Out!, so this is a very full-circle moment more than five decades later and we know that his music and legacy will be in the best possible hands for generations to come.”

Photo By Rick Diamond/Getty Images

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