Composers, Lyricists, and Musicians

Arthur Schwartz (Columbia Law School, 1920, admitted NY Bar 1924) teamed with Howard Dietz to write many hit songs, including “I’ve Made a Habit of You” and the score to Louisiana Hayride, later made into a film starring Bob Hope (Columbia Pictures, 1944).

Hoagy Carmichael received a law degree from Indiana University, but turned to songwriting after his composition “Stardust” became popular.

Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) studied at Columbia University Law School in 1917 or 1918 (the sources differ), but the lure of the theater was too strong; he left the study of law for the artistic life. He wrote the lyrics for such musical plays as The Sound of Music and Show Boat.

Frederic Edward Weatherly (1848-1929) wrote the words to “Roses of Picardy”, a tune familiar to World War I veterans, and redrafted the “Londonderry Air”; it is now better known as “Danny Boy.”

The composer Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729), a lesser known contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann, wrote much opera, choral, and orchestral music. Other composers who studied law include Igor Stravinsky and Francis Hopkinson, who also signed the Declaration of Independence.

Ed Richard belongs not only in the “composers and musicians” section but also under the “clergy” section. He holds a JD from Louisiana State University Law Center.

Clive Davis received his law degree with honors from Harvard Law School and served as General Counsel of Columbia Records before he became a record producer himself. He has nurtured the careers of any number of great musicians, including the late Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, and Carly Simon.

The multitalented Rubén Blades is a lawyer/actor/musician.

Paul Simon (of Simon and Garfunkel) studied law but abandoned it for music.

Charles Gates Dawes (1865-1951), composed the tune that gave rise to “It’s All in the Game.” He was also a Vice President of the United States (1925-1929) and  won the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize.

The acclaimed soprano Hildegard Behrens took a law degree from the University of Freiburg before beginning her vocal studies.

The great Bulgarian bass Boris Christoff trained as a lawyer and began a career as a magistrate before abandoning the law for singing.

Singer and activist Paul Robeson graduated from Columbia Law School in 1923 and worked for a few years as an attorney but turned to acting and singing, appearing in such films as The Emperor Jones. (For more about Paul Robeson see Amiri Baraka’s Paul Robeson and the Theater (excerpt)).

John Perrault, a New Hampshire lawyer, is also known for his ballads and poems.

Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793) turned from law to drama, including eighty opera libretti. (There’s a lot of law in opera, by the way. Check out the Brooklyn, NY-based Regina Opera Company’s Opera  for more on the topic.)

Peter Garrett, lead singer for the group Midnight Oil, is also a lawyer and environmental activist.

Four centuries earlier the Elizabethan composer Thomas Campion apparently originally intended to study law and studied for several years before being admitted to Gray’s Inn.

The lesser known Tom Rapp had a rock band when he was young, and he even beat out a kid named Bobby Zimmerman in a talent contest in grade school. Zimmerman, of course, is better known as Bob Dylan. By the way, there’s a lot of law in Dylan’s lyrics; check here.

Rapp (later of Pearls Before Swine) is now a lawyer practicing in Philadelphia.

Barry Melton (of Country Joe and the Fish) was Public Defender of Yolo County, California.

Punk rock guitarist Robert Quine (1942-2004) received a degree from Washington University Law School but never practiced law. He went on to play with the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed and other musicians including Brian Eno.

The Italian jazz musician Paolo Conte practiced law for several years before turning exclusively to music.

Francis Scott Key, an attorney, is better known for his contribution, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The late Susan Beschta (died May 2019) performed as a punk rocker with the band The Erasers under the name Susan Springfield before earning a law degree from the City University of New York School of Law. She worked in the areas of women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and immigration law. She eventually served on the New York City Immigration Court.