Tribute to a legend: Jay B. Ross, Entertainment Lawyer

Jay B. Ross

Jay B. Ross

Attorney Jay B. Ross passed away on March 1. A beloved member of Chicago’s media community, Ross’s former client list reads like a who’s who of American music.

James Brown, Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, Woody Guthrie, Jerry “The Iceman” Butler, Koko Taylor, Albertina Walker, and Willie Dixon were among the legends who relied on his expertise and friendship.

According to Reel Chicago founder Ruth Ratny, Ross was “a pioneer in the field of entertainment law.”

Describing Ross’ relationship with the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Ratny noted that his negotiations with Time-Warner and BET on Browns’ behalf “resulted in the largest advance ever paid to a music entertainer for pay-per-view, well over $1 million.”

In addition to his professional abilities, Ross is also remembered for his abundant kindness.

“He was the guy everyone trusted and, more often than not, offered free advice to anyone in need,” recalls Reel Chicago Publisher Barbara Roche, who became friends with Ross years ago while working for Chicago production house Niles Studios. “He was a wonderful mentor who gave the same attention to up-and-coming musicians as he would to the big guys.”

Underground artist Shane Bugbee, who has known Ross for 25 years, says that his former friend and associate “will be in my heart forever.”

“He helped me out for nothing,” continues the man that the Chicago Reader describes as one of the original Chicago hipsters. “He handled some contracts and gave me plenty of advice and let me keep all the money.”



Orphaned at age two in Brooklyn, Ross was raised by an aunt and uncle in Rockford, where he grew up. He attended the University of Wisconsin and the University of Illinois law school.

He founded the law firm Jay B. Ross & Associates in 1969 and — as is prominently stated on his LinkedIn profile — declared that he would remain with the West Loop company his whole life.

“I am not retired!! Still working to the end.”

Along the way, Ross made thousands of friends, many of whom celebrated his professional expertise and personal kindness on Facebook messages posted over the past few days:

“All of your friends … see how you loved everyone no matter what a person did.”

“We have lost a legend in the law profession.”

“Your influence will be felt for generations, and I for one am glad you stuck with your hometown and inspired countless people to be the good guys in the music industry.”

“He always gave me the utmost respect!”

Jay B. Ross was laid to rest on March 4 at the Rockford Hebrew Cemetery. His spirit will forever thrive in Chicago.

  • jdschiller

    I met and knew Mr. Ross through friends in the entertainment business. He was always a true gentleman and totally professional. RIP

  • I am shocked .Jay was the first entertainment attorney i dealt with in Chicago .He was the best NARAS president and believed in Chicago music scene .He will be missed th=he was one of a kind

  • Avis Henkin

    I’m so sad. I grew up with Jay in Rockford. He was older than me by about 6 or 7 seven years, and I idolized him. He was funny, smart, very kind, and introduced me to Mad magazine. I have so many wonderful memories of him. RIP, dear Jay.

  • 1MrPeanut2

    Jay Ross & Associates carried us pro-bono in the 1980’s, to try and get us a recording deal. Tillie Malnak, one of his attorney’s was the person who believed in us. Fond memories of some very good, kind, decent people in the entertainment industry.

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