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Tribute to Lee Eliot Berk

Portrait of Lee Burk in regaliaLee Eliot Berk, the son of Berklee’s founder Lawrence Berk and the school’s namesake, served as Berklee’s second president for 25 years over his 38-year career at the institution. During his tenure, Berklee greatly expanded in size and reach, becoming a world-renowned leader in contemporary music education. His immeasurable contributions to Berklee and the world of music have established a visionary and transformative legacy.

To learn more about Lee Berk and the Berk family, you can explore two digital exhibits presented by the Berklee Archives: the Berk Family Collection and Lee Eliot Berk.

Share your stories and memories of Lee in the comments section below.

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11 Comments

  1. We were fortunate to have enjoyed Lee Berk’s leadership for so long. He was always supportive and helpful to me, in my work at Berklee Press, and cheerfully penned the “About Berklee Press” page of our website when I pestered him to do so during his retirement. There are so many stories about him being supportive of students, administrators, and faculty members, of all backgrounds. In his quiet way, he was fiercely progressive and a steadfast champion of many an underdog. For a non-musician, he certainly created a lot of music.

  2. Elsa Marina Cruz

    I graduated in 1990 from Berklee. My condolences to the family a legacy he was, Lee Eliot Berk, rest in peace with the music of the Lord

  3. Yehuda Eder

    As we are here in Israel in perhaps one of the most tumultuous times in our recent history, we were very sad to learn about President Lee Berk’s passing. Three of our six Rimon founders are Berklee graduates. Many of our management, faculty, and administrative team members were students at Berklee during President Berk’s tenure. We can hardly believe that it’s been 30 years since he, Susan, and their daughters visited Rimon during their tour to Israel, and together we signed the inaugural Berklee International Network (BIN) articulation agreement; launching a deep and meaningful partnership that continues to thrive to this day.

    President Lee Berk stayed true the heart of his father’s founding mission to develop the best professional musicians and carried it to the next level. His visionary, global approach made it possible for musicians from all corners of the world to realize the dream of bringing their musical gifts forward on the international stage. His tenacity and decisiveness were balanced by kindness and generosity.

    Someone of his magnitude is such an indelible fixture that one can’t imagine there will come a day when they will not be with us. We are extraordinarily saddened for Susan, his daughters, and the whole Berklee community for this loss; waves of which will undoubtedly be felt for many years to come. That said, the permanent imprint and volume of good he did will also live on in the many coming generations of musicians who will enter through and graduate from the doors of his namesake.

    With sincere condolences on behalf of the entire Rimon School of Music Family,

    Yehuda Eder ’79, President of the Rimon School of Music and Proud Berklee Alumnus

  4. One of the most influential people in the music world, Lee Berk was a gentle yet resolute force who changed the world—mine included. I count myself among the fortunate to have attended the school—and benefited immensely—from an education unparalleled in the world: thanks to Mr. Lee Berk and his father before him for tirelessly championing the creative spirits of #musicians everywhere. He brought together professionals from all corners of the musicsphere to #teach and to #learn—so many people I studied with who opened my horizons and provided me endless opportunities: so grateful. His #legacy will live long, in the hearts and souls of everyone who has, does and will gather and create in its classrooms and performance spaces. Cheers to the life of Mr. BerkLee!
    ☯ ☮

  5. Julian Vidal

    It was around 2000 and I had been at Berklee for two years when I went into the elevator at the Uchida building with this other person. He said, “How are you liking Berklee?” and I said “You know, I’ve been here for two years and I haven’t met Lee Berk”. And he said “Well, now that you’ve met him, what do you think?” and we both had a laugh!

  6. Tiger Okoshi

    When I became a student of Berklee in the fall 1972, Lee’s father Lawrence Berk was the president. Lawrence and his wife Elma Berk welcomed me and my wife. We came to U.S. on honeymoon but decided to stay and not go back to Japan.
    Berklee supported me who could not speak English much at all, happily, soulfully, financially, spiritually, emotionally and all. Lee and Suzan’s children and my kids used to play together. So many happy memories !!!! On October 26 2019, my wife and I met both at the Berklee’s Gala, we hugged, talked, laughed, and took photos, then I wrote an article about Berklee including photo of Lee and Suzan on art magazine in Japan. I wish I could share the photo of their smile here.

  7. I will miss Lee’s welcoming smile. He always asked everyone how they were doing what they were up to. “any good gigs coming up?’ If you were lucky like I was Lee and Susan would come to some of our performances. They always made it a point to tell us how much they enjoyed the show and appreciated what we did for the college. One of the fond memories I have is from a banquet we attended as guests of Sadao Watanabe in Tokyo. It was Summer of 1985 and one of the first Berklee on the road trips. Gary Burton lead a group of faculty they called The Berklee Allstars. Lee, Susan and the Late Warrick Carter , former Provost with his wife and daughter came along. At the banquet we were served appetizers of giant shrimp with the heads in the shell. Sadao looked at me and said “go ahead and finish, eat the head.” All eyes were waiting so I closed mine and did the deed. Later Lee said ‘thanks for being a good sport and it was better you than me.” He also attended some of my classes there and was very supportive and encouraging.
    Like many other faculty of my Berklee generation I came as a student in 1972. Lee’s father, Lawrence was president and the entire student body was smaller than the current faculty and staff. Lee was very thoughtful toward the faculty and went to great efforts to take care of them just as his father had done. That was one of the many ways he helped to grow the college.
    Several years ago I was traveling in Sana Fe and went into a Museum cafe where there was a jazz group performing. When I told I them I was Berklee person they said that Lee Berk was the person who initiated the jazz at the cafe and he used to book it. Even after retiring to New Mexico Lee still found a way to help musicians in his new community. He was good soul and I offer my deepest sympathy to Susan, Nancy and Lucy.

  8. GERARD LUNA

    I had just finished my lesson at the 1140 building when I crossed paths with president Berk. It was a very brief encounter but I remember being absorbed in my thoughts, somewhat overwhelmed. He stopped and looked at me with a smile on his face and asked “How is your day going?”
    Of course, I recognized him immediately. His action of simply noticing me and taking the time to say something nice made that a brighter day.
    Reading some of the comments posted here makes me think that he did not see me as a total stranger but as a student, a member of his extended family.
    I want to offer my sincere condolences to his wife and family.

  9. Yujiro Maeda

    Dear Mr. David Bogen,

    We would like to express our deepest sympathy on the passing of your former president Dr. Lee Eliot Berk.

    During our long relationship as a global partner, our students and graduates had wonderful opportunity under his kind understanding and support.

    He was a truly great global leader and we are proud to have been as a Global Partner with Berklee College of Music.

    Please convey our sincerest condolences to his family and all at Berklee College of Music.

    Our deepest condolences,

    Yujiro Maeda
    President
    Senzoku Gakuen College of Music

  10. Harold Rivas

    I had a brief but wonderful opportunity to meet Lee and Susan last April. Such kind human beings – I am disheartened by the news of Lee’s recent passing. I extend my sincere condolences and thanks to Susan and their family, and may Lee’s legacy continue to light the way for Berklee.

    Harold Rivas, B.M.
    Former President
    Berklee Student Government Association

  11. matt glaser

    Watching some interviews with Lee after his passing, I am reminded again of his beautiful, thoughtful demeanor and slightly self- deprecating sense of humor. The Berkowitz family ( for that was their name before they shortened it) moved to Boston to escape poverty in Russia,and opened a tailor shop. The modern day, vast complex that is Berklee exists because of Lee and his scrappy family. Thanks Lee. Rest in peace.

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