Branton also was building an entertainment practice. One of his first celebrity clients was Cole, the popular singer who angered white neighbors when he bought a stately home in Hancock Park in the late 1940s.
Branton's wife died in 2006. In addition to Tony Nicholas, he is survived by sons Leo "Chip" Branton and Paul Nicholas; a brother, Sterling; a sister, Julia Branton Jones; and five grandchildren.
For two decades Branton also represented the father of rock icon Jimi Hendrix, who died in 1970 after overdosing on barbiturates. In 1993 Al Hendrix sued Branton and others to regain the control over his famous son's image and music that he had signed away under contracts negotiated by Branton in 1974. The lawsuit was settled out of court in 1995.
In the 1960s, Branton traveled numerous times to the South to work on civil rights cases. During one of his trips he met Rosa Parks, whose refusal to sit at the back of a bus in Montgomery, Ala., sparked the modern civil rights movement. He developed a close friendship with Parks, who for 10 years escaped cold Detroit winters to stay with Branton in Los Angeles.
In 1968, after the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Branton suspended his law practice and moved with his family to Mexico.
A sports fan, he was drawn there partly by the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, where two black sprinters raised their fists in a black power salute. But mostly "he was just extremely upset about the things happening in the U.S. The civil rights issue had bogged down," his son Tony said. He returned to the U.S. in time to join Davis' defense team.
A few years ago, he reenacted his closing argument for professor Charles Ogletree's criminal law students at Harvard. "It was mesmerizing," Ogletree said. "He taught my students … what a great lawyer can do to humanize a client and make a jury see that the burden of proof is on the government."
Branton continued to practice law until early this year. His last case involved a dispute with a credit card company. "He argued the case," his son said, "and won it."