Stars adorn the walls of the College of Law. No, not the kind that fill the night sky, but the framed records of musicians whose songs have filled the airways and contributed to American pop culture. These silver, gold, and platinum records serve as a permanent testament to some of music’s greatest hits, and despite the differences in genre and even era between the artists, they all share one thing in common: the attorney behind the musicians.
That attorney, Joel A. Katz (’69)—who gave these framed records to the college from his collection and for whom the college’s law library is named—is Billboard’s top-ranked entertainment attorney and one of UT Law’s most prominent alumni.
The career of Joel Katz is a faithful testament to the American Dream. During law school, Katz faced hardships and nearly flunked out. At the beginning of his career, he found himself with no clients in an Atlanta office “the size of a restroom stall,” barely living off his savings. However, it was his resilience and entrepreneurial spirit—not to mention a bit of luck—that transformed him into an entertainment mogul with unparalleled experience in the world’s “most fickle business.”
Tough with a Heart of Gold
A Queens native, Katz attended Hunter College in New York City and graduated with an economics degree in 1966. Like his father, Katz aspired to become a lawyer, and that summer he arrived in Knoxville in pursuit of a law degree.
To finance his legal education at UT, he took on two jobs: a part-time position at the college’s library and a full-time, six-days-a-week position from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. as a hotel night clerk. Though Katz was able to keep up with his studies, his punctuality suffered, leading to a confrontation with his contracts professor, Colonel R. McDonald Gray.
“He was a very prim and proper military guy, and he had a rule that if you were late three times, you got an automatic ‘F,’” explains Katz. It was early in the semester when Katz reached his third tardy, a fact the colonel announced to the entire class. “I was so embarrassed,” Katz says.