Toni Braxton sued her former personal manager Friday, saying he owes her at least $10 million for maneuvering to have her abandon a long, lucrative relationship with her record company and jump to his own record label. The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan accuses Barry Hankerson of putting his financial interests ahead of Braxton’s and using fraud, deception and double-dealing to get her to leave Arista Records.
“Hankerson actively sought to destroy Braxton’s relationship with Arista through underhanded `double-talk,’ telling Braxton that Arista was not interested in working with her anymore, while telling Arista that Braxton no longer wanted to record for Arista,” the lawsuit said.
There was no public telephone listing to reach Hankerson for comment Friday, and a telephone listing for his company, Blackground Records, was not in service. In March 2003, Braxton ended the business relationship she had begun with Arista in 1991, when she signed a contract that led to her 1993 debut album, “Toni Braxton.” That recording rose to No. 1 on the “Billboard 200” and sold more than 10 million albums worldwide. Braxton received the Grammy Award for best new artist in 1993, and she won Grammys that year and the next for best female R&B vocal performance. The singer said in the lawsuit that she hired Hankerson as her personal manager in late 1997 and a year later the singer negotiated a new five-album deal with Arista, receiving more than $20 million in advances on the records.
In 2002, the lawsuit said, Hankerson began trying to drive a wedge between Arista and Braxton by fabricating creative disputes over the selection of songs, producers and video directors. A year later, Hankerson, a Manhattan resident, obtained a release for Braxton from any future recording obligations to Arista and convinced her to let him issue a press statement saying she was leaving Arista for Blackground Records, the lawsuit said.
He then duped Braxton into signing a multi-album deal with his label, only to deprive the singer of her rights under the recording agreement by failing to send her accounting statements and by lying about deals he had made, the lawsuit said. Braxton said she tried to fire Hankerson as her personal manager but he responded by engaging in a vendetta against her, insisting he keep controlling her career and refusing to communicate with any of several personal managers she sought to employ, the lawsuit said.