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Lawyer Could’ve-Beens…making great music

An up-and-coming jazz singer has added her own touch to tunes from a landmark songwriter to make an album that’s getting notice for innovation and serious chops.

The kick for the legal scene is that both singer and songwriter earned law degrees in addition to musical accolades.

In her debut album, “Nothing But Soul,” UC Berkeley law school graduate Tiffany Austin covers songs by the late composer – and lawyer could’ve-been – Hoagy Carmichael. The album, released this past June, has made a splash throughout the Bay Area, and is beginning to attract a broader audience.

In a review of her album aired by NPR, music critic Kevin Whitehead praises her music, saying, “She’s got that flexible voice, excellent pitch and rhythm, and she can weave her own line around a melody and still let you hear the original behind it. That is more than enough to make Austin a singer to keep an ear on.”

Austin launched her singing career as an undergrad, and she performed on three continents before taking a break from music to enroll in law school. There, she concentrated her studies on entertainment law and copyright.

“It was my dream to advocate for creative artists and be a resource of expertise from both sides of the music business,” she writes on her website, tiffanyaustinmusic.com.

Austin went on to earn her law degree in 2012, but while her classmates were busy taking the bar exam, she turned back towards her passion for singing.

“I could have gone into a law firm, which can be rewarding, particularly if you’re helping an underserved community, but my calling has always been to do music,” Austin states in her online bio. “I don’t just want to make decisions based on money. I want to feel connected to my art and my community. I want to really be in touch with my soul.”

Carmichael’s stint as a lawyer was also short-lived. The songwriter earned his law degree from the Indiana University in 1926 and joined an Indiana firm in 1927, but he found himself channeling most of his energy into his side career as a musician. Carmichael soon left his law practice and moved to Hollywood.

Carmichael’s music career spanned several decades and produced hits such as “Stardust” and “Georgia on my Mind.” He died in 1981, 10 years after his induction into the U.S. Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Austin continues to live in Northern California, where she performs in local venues and focuses on her music full time.

Retired Roanoke Circuit Judge Jonathan M. Apgar, who himself is a vocalist in a local jazz ensemble and singer with the Let’s Dance Band, can relate to Austin’s pull to both the law and the stage.

“The biggest difference between myself and Ms. Austin is that my singing is a completely avocational not-for-profit hobby,” said the former judge, who now serves as a mediator in Southwest Virginia. “She has a nice sound and I wish her every success.”

Additional reporting by Peter Vieth

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