The Commercial Appeal
Lawyer/musician lived ‘interesting’ life
Diverse crowd among Rosenberg’s mourners
After Seymour Rosenberg died Saturday, two close friends both used the same word to describe him: unusual.
Perhaps the greatest proof of that could be seen at Mr. Rosenberg’s funeral Monday, when two mourners who couldn’t be more different showed up to pay their respects: Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges.
“He was a very unusual, likable fellow,” said longtime friend Irvin Salky. “Seymour was a character with a wonderful sense of humor. He liked to tell jokes, poke fun at different things.” Mr. Rosenberg, a noted lawyer and trumpet player called “Sy” by many, succumbed to a heart condition at age 77.
In many ways, Mr. Rosenberg embraced that dual life. During the day, he was a noted defense attorney. But at night, he opened his trumpet case and blew the songs of the big bands to appreciative crowds for more than 50 years. He played his last gig in May.
“More than a dual life. A quadruple triple life. He was an entrepreneur, he was in the music business,” said his son, Gary Rosenberg. “Everybody thinks their dad is interesting, but my dad was really interesting.”
As a noted criminal defense attorney — that’s likely how he met both Wharton and Mongo — Mr. Rosenberg represented several notorious clients, including Sandra Baumgartner, who admitted killing Daniel Morgan by stabbing him 120 times in 2001.
“He was a terrific criminal lawyer, did all kinds of cases,” said Jim Lockard, who worked as Mr. Rosenberg’s clerk after law school. “What career I’ve had, I owe to him. He was always the guy who taught me the right way to do things.”
He also had a talent for doing what needed to be done in representing his clients. Once, during a dispute with former Circuit Court Judge Karen Williams, Mr. Rosenberg filed to run against her in a race that was nearly two years away.
Why file so early? Because Williams then had to recuse herself from hearing his cases.
“He was probably bored with the rest of the world because he was five chess moves ahead of the rest of the people,” his son said.
And then there was his trumpet, something Mr. Rosenberg was rarely without. He didn’t start out playing the trumpet, though, he told The Commercial Appeal in 2006.
“I’ve been playing (music) since I was 13, “ he said. “I started on piano but when I was growing up, Harry James was married to Betty Grable and Ray Anthony was married to Mamie van Doren. It looked like trumpet players were getting the girls.”
Early in his career, he managed Charlie Rich, the famous “Silver Fox” who had numerous hits on the country and pop charts. He also represented Stax Records and Isaac Hayes.
“There were so many sides to him,” Lockard said. “For a person to be a terrific lawyer, you’d think that would be enough. But he was a terrific musician. There weren’t that many people who were as gifted as he was.”
In addition to his son, Mr. Rosenberg is also survived by his wife, Barbara Rosenberg; his sister, Saralyn Weiss; two other sons, Jeffrey Rosenberg and Jason Rosenberg; two daughters, Susan Tobey and Diane Willner; and seven grandchildren.
— Jody Callahan: (901) 529-6531