Lee Eliot Berk


Berklee President, 1979-2004

Lee Eliot Berk portrait

Born in 1942, Lee Eliot Berk was the only son of the late Lawrence Berk, founder and first president of Berklee, and Alma Berk, who served alongside husband Lawrence as Berklee’s chief public affairs officer. Lee grew up studying piano under Margaret Chaloff and trumpet with Fred Berman. He graduated from Newton High School in 1960; he went on to earn his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brown University (1964) and his law degree from Boston University School of Law (1967). Lee began working at Berklee in 1966 as bursar and supervisor of the Private Study Division, became vice president in 1971, and served as the college's second president from 1979 until his retirement in 2004.

Susan and Lee Berk
Susan and Lee Berk at Christmas event (undated)

Lee married Susan Ginsberg (1947- ) in 1975. Susan graduated from Beaver College (now Arcadia University) in Pennsylvania and received her graduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked as an assistant librarian for the American Jewish Historical Society and later as an archivist at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. As presidential spouse, Susan co-founded the Friends of Berklee, established Berklee Family Day and Berklee's Depression Awareness program, and organized numerous events, concerts, and gatherings for the Berklee community. Together with Lee, she established and co-hosted the annual Berklee Gala, first held in honor of the college’s fiftieth anniversary in 1995. 


As vice-president and later president, Lee oversaw significant expansion of the college's curriculum—including majors in film scoring, music education, electronic music, songwriting, music business, and music therapy—and the launch of the Berklee International Network, Berklee City Music, and Berklee Online. Lee also established the annual High School Jazz Festival, an educational jazz performance event and competition for New England high school jazz bands and vocal ensembles, which ran from 1968 through 2019. Berklee's fiftieth anniversary book, Berklee: The First Fifty Years was written and published under Lee's direction. At the time of his retirement, the student body had grown to nearly 3,700 students, of which approximately 30% were international, and 400 faculty members. Several buildings were acquired, renovated, or re-envisioned under Lee's leadership, including the Berklee Performance Center (1976) and the Stan Getz Media Center and Library (1988).

Lawrence, Lee and Alma Berk
Lawrence Berk, Lee Berk, and Alma Berk (1971)
Lee, Susan, Alma, Larry Berk
Lee Berk, Susan Berk, Alma Berk, and Lawrence Berk (1979)

Lee taught and wrote on issues of music and copyright, earning the 1971 ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for his book Legal Protection for the Creative Musician. As head of the Pro Arts Consortium in 1998, Lee also established the Boston Arts Academy, Boston's first and only arts charter high school. Lee received the American Eagle Award from the National Music Council (1995), the International Association for Jazz Education Humanitarian Award (2004), the NAMM Lifetime Achievement Award (2004), the Order of the Rising Sun from the Emperor of Japan (2004), the Recording Academy President's Merit Award (2004), as well as honorary doctorates from Berklee College of Music (2004), Columbia College Chicago (2009), and Brown University (2014).

Lee Eliot Berk portrait 2


Lee Berk at Berklee Graduation (2004)
Photographs in this exhibit are from the Berk Family collection, 1920s-2019 (BCA-014).