UT Knoxville, ’69
One of America’s foremost entertainment lawyers nearly lost his career before it began. But, thanks to an astute professor in the UT Knoxville College of Law, Joel Katz went on to boast a star-studded client list.
A New York native, Katz worked part time in the college’s library and worked 12 hours a night, six nights a week as a hotel clerk.
Katz’s schedule caused him to be late, and professor R. McDonald Gray threatened to fail him. Katz asked to remain in the class in preparation for retaking it, explaining he had to work around the clock.
“I’ll never forget it,” Katz says in a 2016 Tennessee Law story. “[Gray] said, ‘You’re not going to get an F in my class, son. You want to be a lawyer more than anybody else in this damn law school. You’re going to be a great lawyer, so I’m not going to fail you.’”
Later, Katz left school to care for his ill brother, and Gray convinced administrators to let Katz resume the following semester.
Katz’s big opportunity came as an attorney in Atlanta. He lectured at Georgia State University, and a former student asked him to represent an entertainer tired of Los Angeles and New York lawyers. That artist, James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul,” lived in Augusta, Georgia. Eventually Katz’s client list included Willie Nelson, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Waylon
Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. More recently, he added Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Jamie Foxx, George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Jimmy Buffett, Julio Iglesias, Little Big Town, TLC, Steve Harvey, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
Today, he is the top entertainment attorney on Billboard’s Power 100 list of the most powerful music executives in the world.
Part of the Tennessee Alumnus‘ 100 Distinguished Alumni feature.