Abe Fortas may be the only Supreme Court Justice whose first career was in a dance band. The son of Jewish immigrants from England, Fortas grew up on Pontotoc Street in downtown Memphis. His father encouraged him to play the violin, and, by thirteen, he was playing in a dance band called “the Blue Medley Boys.”
The young sensation, nicknamed “Fiddlin' Abe,” earned enough to supplement his college scholarship at Southwestern University, today's Rhodes College. His passion for music and the arts remained with him throughout his life.
After finishing second in his class at Yale Law School, Fortas taught for a year at Yale, and then held posts at several federal agencies during the New Deal administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. After World War II, Fortas and two associates founded a private law firm.
He practiced in Washington, D.C., for twenty years until 1965, when President Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court. During his brief time on the high court, Fortas was a champion of civil liberties.
He resigned in 1969 in the wake of a financial scandal and formed a new law firm, practicing law until his death in 1982.