Lawrence Berk grew up in the West End and is best known as the founder of Berklee College of Music. He played piano as a youth in the Boston English High School band and, at age 13, began moonlighting professionally. He pursued a “legitimate” career, earning a degree in architectural engineering from MIT. After graduating, with few engineering jobs available, Berk moved to New York City. There he gained more professional music experience and studied under Joseph Schillinger, who taught such jazz greats as George Gershwin, Gerry Mulligan, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey.
Berk returned to Boston during WWII to work for Raytheon, but continued his musical pursuits. In 1945, he opened Schillinger House on Newbury Street to offer music education beyond the classical realm—embracing jazz and commercial music. The school became one of only five colleges to offer jazz for credit in the late 1940s. By the 1950s, the number of students had ballooned from fewer than 50 to more than 500. In 1954, Berk changed the name to Berklee School of Music, reflecting the school’s growth and expanded curriculum (and for his eldest son, Lee). From 1979 to 2004, Lee Elliot Berk served as Berklee’s president and continued to evolve his father’s vision, establishing the college as one of the most respected music schools in the world.
Exhibit and Design copyright Duane Lucia.