There are more than 6,000 names in Joel Katz’s Rolodex. One name was there first, and the rest followed: James Brown.
The late, legendary performer whose life story will be portrayed in the film “Get on Up,” opening Friday, was Katz’s very first client and a friend for more than 30 years.
“He used to tell people, ‘I started Joel Katz!’” the entertainment super-lawyer said Tuesday after speaking at summer commencement at Kennesaw State University (home of the Joel A. Katz Music and Entertainment Business Program, located about 15 miles north of Joel Katz Parkway in Atlanta).
“He was very smart," Katz said. "He was not educated, but he had a Ph.D. in streetology. He taught me so much.”
Katz, who received an honorary doctorate from Kennesaw State on Tuesday, was not consulted about the movie and hasn’t seen it yet, but said his client would have loved seeing his life story on the big screen.
The most key lesson Brown ever taught him, he said, was patience.
“He would always tell me, ‘Don’t rush anything. Watch me on stage. Everything I do is for effect,’” Katz said.
Katz is the chairman of the Global Entertainment and Media Practice at the law firm Greenberg Traurig and former chairman of the American Bar Association’s Entertainment and Sports Law Section. His client list is packed with music industry giants likeJustin Timberlake and Ludacris, and reading his list of board memberships and industry accolades would take longer than his commencement speech lasted.
Things looked vastly different at the dawn of his legal career more than four decades ago.
“I started with absolutely nothing,” said Katz, who got through law school at the University of Tennessee thanks to a scholarship and a six-day-a-week job working 6 p.m. to 6 a.m as a Holiday Inn night clerk. Graduation in 1969 brought him to a one-bedroom apartment in Atlanta and a teaching job at Georgia State University.
In 1971, he opened a law practice. He had a tiny office, a secretary he shared with other lawyers and one big problem: “I had no clients.”
One afternoon, the telephone blessedly rang. A banker on the line had taken Katz’s course at Georgia State and enjoyed it. Now he needed to help a client locate a good entertainment lawyer.
“Do you know anything about entertainment law?” the banker asked. Katz pondered that for a second. “I was honest: ‘No, I know nothing.’”
This, somehow, was the right answer. The next day, he was ushered into the penthouse suite at the Omni where Brown was getting his hair done.
“I was in awe,” Katz said. After a 10-minute discussion, Brown decided Katz was his man and stroked a retainer check for $2,500. The next day, they headed for New York, where Katz’s job was to negotiate a huge recording contract.
“He wanted $5 million and a jet plane, and a variety of other contractual demands,” Katz said.
Recording executives were gobsmacked. “No one who understood the recording industry would ask for such crazy things,” Katz recalled one of the executives bellowing. “As his yelling intensified, I began to realize why Mr. Brown chose me.”
After Brown signed the contract giving him most of what he wanted, Katz accompanied him to a news conference where Brown closed by saying, “I want to thank my lawyer, Joel Katz, from Atlanta, Georgia, the best entertainment lawyer in the whole world,” recalled Katz, who collected $50,000 for his work on that contract and remained Brown’s lawyer until he died on Christmas Day 2006.
“The Atlanta Constitution and several other newspapers carried articles and my name was in all the articles: Joel Katz, the best entertainment lawyer in the world. A few days later, I received a call from a country music artist from Austin, Texas. He had read the articles. He said if you’re good enough for the Godfather, you’re good enough for me. Willie Nelson went on to be a superstar, too.”
A slew of others followed, and Katz’s clients have included Michael Jackson, Kenny Chesney, Julio Iglesias, Tammy Wynette, Kris Kristofferson, George Strait and George Jones. “What I learned that helped me can help you,” Katz told KSU’s graduates. “Learn the gift of patience. The tortoise will win every single race. It is the interactions between human beings that creates relationships.”
KENNESAW — The music business program at Kennesaw State University was spotlighted during Tuesday’s commencement ceremony with a popular entertainment lawyer who has represented Michael Jackson, James Brown and Willie Nelson addressing graduates Tuesday.
Joel Katz founded Katz, Smith & Cohen 30 years ago. In 1998, Katz merged his practice with Greenberg Traurig, which he called one of the biggest entertainment law firms in the world. He spoke to the graduates before receiving an honorary degree at the ceremony.
During his speech, Katz advised graduates to be ambitious.
“Time is more precious than all of the gold and all of the diamonds in the world because that time allows you to prove to the world who you are and what you can do,” Katz said.
Katz was awarded the degree because of his contributions to the school. He founded the music business program and is heavily involved in the school that was named after him. Students can earn certificates, which are similar to minors, from the program in two years, said Keith Perissi, the program’s director.
Perissi said the program has 250 people enrolled for the fall semester, compared to 50 people in fall of 2011, when the program was created.
Four graduates out of the 1,163-person KSU summer class of 2014 received the music and entertainment business certificate, Perissi said.
Music program creates connections
Teresa Samaras, who received a MEBUS certificate in December and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing Tuesday, said the program was responsible for all her opportunities in college. Samaras interned at Washington D.C.-Black Entertainment Television and Atlanta-based Sixthman, a cruise ship event business, among other places while in college.
“Every internship that I had has been through connections with the program,” Samaras said.
Samaras, who is from Savannah but now lives in Kennesaw, said she already has a job lined up marketing entertainment events in Atlanta as well as at KSU with Accurate Event Productions.
“The program has really prepared me for the real world and taking the next step out of college,” Samaras said. “I kind of didn’t want to get out and then when I was in this program I realized what I wanted to do after college.”
Samaras said she enjoyed participating in the program because it helped make music, something she had always loved while participating in music programs at her high school, a part of her job.
“I’ve always had that passion in my life and this program brought it back in my life,” Samaras said.
Mychael Ball, who graduated Tuesday with the MEBUS certificate and a bachelor’s degree in communications, said he moved to Kennesaw from Midland, Texas, to get in the program.
Ball, who is a singer-songwriter, said Kennesaw is an ideal place to start a career in music, and the program helped him with that.
“All my music needs were being met through that program,” Ball said. “I was getting exposure to the Atlanta and the national music community. That’s a reason I picked Atlanta to move to.”
“It’s enabled me to be able to connect with various people in the music business,” Ball said. “I have entertainment lawyers in my phone that I can call if I have questions about a contract or anything like that.”
Perissi said he was proud to see his students graduate and thankful to Katz for speaking.
“For me it was better than winning a Grammy — to see them graduate,” Perissi said.
Summer class includes variety
KSU, which has 24,629 students enrolled in the fall of 2013, compared to 24,604 in fall 2012, still has one more graduation before incorporating with Southern Polytechnic State University after fall 2014, said Tiffany Capuano, a spokeswoman for the school.
In the summer of 2013, 1,403 students graduated from KSU, compared to this summer’s 1,163. The most popular undergraduate major was psychology, with instructional technology ranking first for graduate students, Capuano said.
Martavius Thompson, 22, moved to Kennesaw after graduating from Southwest DeKalb High School four years ago, and he said he felt “a sigh of relief” when he received a degree in communications during the afternoon ceremony.
“It feels like a feeling of freedom. Just a relief, like I’m done,” Thompson said.
With his communications degree, Thompson said he hopes to “do a lot of mentoring and public speaking.”
“Right now I’m building a business,” he said. “It’s based on social marketing, and it encompasses a lot of communication skills, mentoring skills, things like that.”
Thompson said his business, which caters to students, aims to help students manage their money by providing personal finance education and promoting money management software.
Thompson said he said he doesn’t share concerns about the uncertain job market with his fellow graduates.
“I think a lot of college students do get nervous, but me personally, I’m not nervous at all,” he said of landing a job.
A survey of graduates from summer and fall 2013 and spring 2014 reveals a little more than half of the 3,190 students surveyed — 55.5 percent — found work after graduation. KSU officials said this represented a four percent decrease in employment from the previous graduating class.
Thirty-five percent of respondents landed jobs in their desired field.
Helen Spence, 50, of Powder Springs, experienced the hardship of joblessness firsthand when the construction company that employed her shut its doors as the economy began to sour.
Spence said her sister encouraged her to go back to school, which she ultimately decided to do in the spring of 2010 because her son had reached the age of self-sufficiency.
Her son, who graduated from McEachern High School in May, will start his freshman year at KSU this fall.
“I’m so proud of him,” she said of her son, who was accepted into KSU’s international business school.
“He’s a smart one. Now it’s my turn.”
Spence said she decided to study psychology because the field provides “answers.”
“I just fell in love with it. The physiological side is fascinating, the genetics of it all,” she said.
Spence was cheered on by her mother, sister, husband, son, mother-in-law and close friends at the afternoon ceremony Tuesday.
But Spence said she missed two members of her family who were not able to attend.
Spence said she lost her brother to alcoholism 10 years ago.
“He hung the moon as far as I’m concerned,” she said of her brother.
Spence said her brother’s alcoholism is part of the reason she decided to study psychology.
“I’m looking for answers, and my hope is to help future generations not have to go through what I had to go through,” she said. “That’s why the research is so important.”
Spence also said her father, who would have been “very, very proud” to see his daughter graduate from KSU, died 25 years ago.
His birthday would have been Tuesday, just in time for graduation.
“I kind of feel like there’s somebody watching over my shoulder today,” she said.
While Spence said she hopes to earn a doctorate in psychology and pursue research work, she said she is currently applying for jobs so she can put her son through the school she just left.
“I’m excited about part two and watching my son have this experience,” Spence said of the next chapter in her life.
Michelle Nunn can come across as a “lightweight,” “too liberal,” not a “real Georgian.” While she served as CEO for the Points of Light Foundation, the organization gave grants to “inmates” and “terrorists.” And her Senate campaign must feature images of her and her family “in rural settings with rural-oriented imagery” because the Atlanta-based candidate will struggle to connect with rural voters.
These may sound like attacks from the Senate candidate’s Republican rival, but in fact, those are a few of the concerns expressed in her own campaign plan, which sources say was posted online briefly in December and appears to have been drafted earlier that month. Drawing on the insights of Democratic pollsters, strategists, fundraisers, and consultants, the document contains a series of memos addressed to Nunn and her senior advisers.
From all appearances, the document was intended to remain confidential. It outlines the challenges inherent in getting Nunn, who grew up mostly in Bethesda, Md., elected to the Senate in a state with a large rural population. Her father, Sam Nunn, was elected to the Senate when she was six, and Michelle Nunn attended Washington’s prestigious National Cathedral School and then the University of Virginia and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government before returning to Georgia to do nonprofit work and, now, to seek higher office.
The documents reveal the campaign’s most sensitive calculations. Much of the strategizing in the Georgia contest, as is typical in southern politics, revolves around race. ...
To compensate for her difficulties with rural white voters, Nunn’s strategists emphasize the need to turn out blacks and Hispanics. “They know that in order to have a chance of winning, they’ve got to change the turnout from what it would ordinarily be in a midterm election,” Kerwin Swint, a professor of politics at Atlanta’s Kennesaw State University, said, when asked about the document’s conclusions. ...
Georgia’s campaign for governor shifted into litigious territory Friday as boosters of Gov. Nathan Deal and his Democratic challenger, Jason Carter, traded complaints over timely fundraisers and politicized tweets in an effort to tar their opponent as unethical.
Republicans have socked Carter, an Atlanta state senator, and his supporters with a range of complaints in recent days as the governor vows to reinvigorate his last bid for public office. It’s ground Carter’s camp is happy to fight over, offering a fresh chance to revive ethics questions swirling around the governor’s 2010 campaign.
It’s also a sign that the ethics commission, vilified by both campaigns, will play an outsized role in this campaign as it vets this volley of complaints, as well as later rounds that are almost assured to come through November.
“Both campaigns are trying to get an upper hand on the ethics issue,” said Kerwin Swint, a Kennesaw State University political scientist. ...
MARIETTA — More than a month after the death of 22-month-old Cooper Harris shocked Marietta and the nation, Cobb police continue to investigate his father after charging him with murder.
A local psychologist and criminal profiler agree police will be looking at Justin Ross Harris’ habits, his testimonies and the evidence he left to determine who Harris was before he was arrested June 18.
“The way the investigators are probably looking at that is what is normal, what is reasonable for him. What does normal look like? What is reasonable behavior for him?” said Stan Crowder, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Kennesaw State University.
Crowder examined the evidence police presented in Harris’ bond hearing July 3 to determine, much like police will, what Harris’ intentions were the day of the crime.
Harris, 33, of Marietta, is charged with murder and child cruelty. He was denied bond and has been in the Cobb County jail since June 18.
“Evidence can’t lie, it can’t be persuaded. It can be misinterpreted, but it can’t be changed,” Crowder said.
Crowder and Marietta psychologist Dr. Gary Dudley analyzed details of the case brought out by police in Harris’ hearing to determine what might have been normal for Harris. ...
MARIETTA — The dust has settled, and the winners of the runoff elections have been crowned. So why did the elections shake out the way they did?
Political experts in Cobb pointed to a variety of factors, including name recognition, endorsements and a strong ground game, as the reason some candidates succeed while others did not.
Some pundits predicted the results of the race for a seat on the Cobb Board of Education, but were surprised by how one-sided the election was as Susan Thayer defeated incumbent Tim Stultz by a significant margin; Thayer received 3,030 votes, or 70 percent, while Stultz took home only 1,271, or 30 percent. ...
Thayer goes on to face Democrat Kenya Pierre in November for the District 2 seat on the board
Loudermilk’s ground game puts him over the top
Meanwhile, in the race to be one of Georgia’s representatives in the other chamber of the U.S. Congress, former state Rep. Barry Loudermilk defeated former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr to become the presumptive 11th District Repres-entative for the state of Georgia.
Loud-ermilk received 34,641 votes statewide, or about 66 percent, compared to 17,794 votes, or about 34 percent, for Barr. In Cobb County, Loudermilk took 59 percent of the vote, good for 13,591 votes, compared to only 9,314, or 41 percent, for Barr.
Kerwin Swint, a professor of political science at Kennesaw State University, argued Loudermilk’s endorsements from religious and conservative organizations, such as FreedomWorks, resonated with the types of voters in District 11.
“He’s a conservative, family-based candidate in a conservative district, and so his issue concerns and policies lined up very, very closely to where a majority of voters in the district are,” Swint said. ...
From the flicker of heat in pepperoncini to the incendiary burn of the Carolina Reaper, the chilli has conquered the world. These pungent pods are now the most widely grown spice crop of all. But, in recent years, the medical profession has become increasingly interested in the chemical ingredient of its trademark heat, with one recent study even suggesting the spice may also offer a way to help conquer the ravages of old age.
The chilli pepper is the fruit of plants from the genus Capsicum, a member of the nightshade family that includes tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants. The compound that makes them so spicy is known as capsaicin, a nitrogen-containing lipid related to the active principle in vanilla (vanillin) and has the same effect on our pain receptors as heat. ...
The origins of domesticated chilli seem to lie in a region of central-east Mexico, in a swathe ranging from southern Puebla and northern Oaxaca to southeastern Veracruz. When it comes to studies of domestication, “this is the first research to integrate multiple lines of evidence,” says Gary Nabhan at the University of Arizona, another team member.
We know little about how the Mayans and others in the region used chilli peppers. But research by Terry Powis at Kennesaw State University and colleagues revealed clues in 2,000-year-old pottery samples from a site in southern Mexico, home of the Mixe-Zoquean. They discovered Capsicum residues in a spouted jar, a vessel used for pouring liquid for culinary, pharmaceutical, or ritual uses. ...
MARIETTA — In the two months since a number of primary contests were whittled down to two contenders, candidates for seats from the local school board to the U.S. House have not pulled punches in their efforts to emerge victorious Tuesday.
The runoff season — which began for some races when no one primary candidate managed to capture 50 percent of the electorate May 20 — has seen several competitive races take a negative turn as the July 22 election approaches.
Former commission Chairman Bill Byrne and former Acworth Alderman Bob Weatherford have been locked in a tight contest for outgoing Commissioner Helen Goreham’s seat representing northwest Cobb, a race that has seemingly pitted grassroots support against the influence of Cobb Chamber leaders.
Among the most contentious contests to be decided is the runoff between Barry Loudermilk, a former state senator from Bartow County, and Bob Barr, a former congressman and presidential candidate, for U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey’s seat representing the 11th District. Gingrey vacated his seat to launch an ultimately unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate.
Both candidates have dug up unflattering pieces of each other’s history in their attempts to prove themselves the more worthy choice.
Also in a runoff are Cobb Juvenile Court Judge Juanita Stedman and prosecutor Ann Harris, who are vying for retiring Judge Jim Bodiford’s seat on the Cobb Superior Court bench, and Cobb school board member Tim Stultz, who is defending his post against education consultant Susan Thayer.
Kerwin Swint, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University, said there’s always “a bit of a risk involved” when runoff opponents decide to launch attacks on each other.
“There’s always a calculation,” Swint said. “When you’re going to attack your opponent, you’re going to take some heat yourself. So you better make sure, if you’re going to go after your opponent, the attack hurts him more than it hurts you.” ...
MARIETTA — Prepare for an all-out assault of campaign ads in your mailbox, over your phone and on your television.
With July 22’s runoff elections a week away, candidates for several high profile positions will be emptying their war chests to buy direct mail advertisements, employ callers and purchase commercials in an attempt to drive supporters to the polls. And some candidates have large war chests.
For example, there is about $2 million cash on hand between Republican U.S. Senate candidates Jack Kingston and David Perdue.
“I’m sure both of those candidates are going to … continue to raise money right up to the last possible minute,” said Kerwin Swint, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University.
According to disclosure filings on the Federal Election Commission’s website, Kingston, an 11-term congressman, has received more than $7 million in contributions over the course of his candidacy, including about $2 million in the last three months alone. Kingston had about $1.2 million cash on hand as of June 30. ...
A photo of a line of colorful clothing strewn atop hedges beneath an apartment window allowed one of 13 participants in a Clarkston, Ga., community engagement project designed by Kennesaw State doctoral candidate Birthe C. Reimers to vent about an issue of concern.