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Berk Family collection, 1920s-2019

Identifier: BCA-014

Scope and Contents

The Berk Family collection consists of professional and personal material compiled by and about Lawrence (1908-1995), Alma (née Schlager, 1912-1995), Lee (1942-2023) and Susan (née Ginsberg, 1947- ) Berk from the 1920s through 2019, representing two generations of Berklee leadership (1945-2004). The collection includes assorted Berklee documents, correspondence, clippings, and ephemera; artifacts and awards presented to members of the Berk family in recognition of their service and accomplishments; other professional records and tributes; and materials pertaining to travel and philanthropic activities in retirement. The collection contains few administrative records from either couples’ presidencies. The collection also includes family records such as diaries, school records, travel materials, wedding invitations, correspondence, and memorial records commemorating Alma and Lawrence following their deaths in 1995. Finally, the collection comprises numerous scrapbooks, photographs, and audiovisual recordings capturing nearly 100 years of family memories and Berklee experiences.


  • Creation: 1920s-2019


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research by appointment, however some material is restricted and requires advance approval by the Berklee Archives' Associate Director--see series descriptions for more information. Advance notice is required for access because materials are stored offsite. Additionally, access to audiovisual materials may require the production of viewing/listening copies. Contact Archives staff for further information.

Conditions Governing Use and Reproduction.

Materials from Berklee Archives are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright law. Permission to examine materials, or to obtain copies, does not imply the right to publish, exhibit, or broadcast them, in whole or in part.

Because of the assembled nature of this collection, copyright status varies across the collection. Visitors and researchers are solely responsible for determining the copyright status of any materials they may wish to use, making fair use determinations, investigating the owner(s) of the copyright and, where necessary, obtaining permission for the intended use. For additional information regarding copyright, fair use, and reproduction services, please consult our Access and Use Policies.

Biographical Note

Over the first sixty years of its existence, Berklee College of Music was led by two generations of the Berk family: Lawrence and Alma Berk (1945-1979), followed by their son Lee and his wife Susan (1979-2004).

Pianist, composer, arranger, and educator Lawrence “Larry” Berk (1908-1995) was born Lawrence Berkowitz to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in Boston’s West End. Larry worked professionally as a pianist and composer from the age of thirteen under bandleaders such as Ruby Newman at local hotels and nightclubs. When Larry graduated Boston English High School in 1927, he continued gigging professionally while enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), playing with Meyer Davis at the Copley Plaza, and with the Joe Rines Orchestra. Larry graduated from MIT with a degree in architectural engineering in 1932 but struggled to find work in the Depression years; he relocated to New York, where he studied with Russian-born mathematician, music theorist, composer, and educator Joseph Schillinger (1895-1943) while working as a composer and arranger for CBS and NBC radio. Larry was one of the dozen instructors, sometimes referred to as the “12 disciples,” authorized by Schillinger to teach his unique mathematical system of music composition and analysis known as the Schillinger System of Musical Composition.

In 1937, Larry married Alma Schlager (1912-1995). The daughter of Jewish Russian immigrants and raised in East Boston, Alma graduated from Boston Clerical High School and worked as the executive secretary for Judge Jenny Loitman Barron and the Massachusetts insurance commissioner. While she and Larry lived in New York, Alma continued to work in the insurance industry on Wall Street and also supported Larry as his music copyist.

Larry and Alma moved back to Boston in 1939; Larry (who officially changed the family’s last name to Berk in 1941) worked as an engineer for Raytheon and taught music part-time at a private studio on Massachusetts Avenue. After the United States entered World War Two in 1941, Larry worked at Fort Devens and as a naval architect at the Boston Navy Yard.

In 1945, Larry opened the Schillinger House school of music at 284 Newbury Street, offering specialized instruction in the Schillinger System and training in jazz and commercial music for dance, theater, radio, and later television. The curriculum soon expanded to incorporate music education and traditional music theory, and the school was renamed Berklee School of Music in 1954—the new name an inversion of the name of the Berks’ son, Lee, inspired by a dream of trumpet teacher Fred Berman. In the mid-1960s the school became a non-profit charitable organization. The school was renamed Berklee College of Music in 1970, and in 1973 it became a fully accredited four-year college.

Lawrence Berk served as the college’s president until 1979 and its chancellor until his death in 1995. He received the National Association of Music Merchants Music for Life Award, the NARAS (National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences) President’s Merit Award (1995), and an honorary doctorate from Berklee (1979). In addition to numerous untitled roles alongside her husband and later her son, the college’s second president, Alma Berk established Berklee's Office of Public Information in 1959 and served as Chief Public Affairs Officer until her retirement in 1994. She cultivated important media connections that successfully elevated Berklee’s profile among music education institutions, aided alumni as they launched their careers, and attracted increasing numbers of musicians to the school. Having opened Schillinger House with three students, Larry and Alma Berk grew the school’s enrollment from 50 students in 1946 to 2,500 at the time of their deaths in 1995.

Beyond Berklee, Larry and Alma were founding members of Temple Shalom and active in the local Jewish community. They traveled extensively throughout their lives and especially in retirement, returning frequently to Barbados. Both passed away in December 1995.

Lee Eliot Berk (1942-2023) 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.

Lee married Susan Ginsberg (1947- ) in 1975. Susan, raised in Connecticut, 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. She was an active member of the Women’s College Club and the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union. Susan also volunteered regularly with Hadassah Boston, the Women’s Lunch Place, Jewish Women's Archives, Temple Israel Sisterhood, and the American Heart Association.

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).

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).

As presidential spouse, Susan co-founded the Friends of Berklee, established an annual Berklee Family Day inviting faculty and staff to bring their children to work, cohosted college concerts and events, and organized numerous gatherings for Berklee students and friends in the Berk home. Together with Lee, Susan established and co-hosted the annual Berklee Gala, first held in honor of the college’s 50th Anniversary in 1995. Susan also instituted National Depression Screening Day in 1990; Berklee’s local expression, established in 1998, was the school’s annual Depression Awareness program, in which visiting musicians and medical professionals presented on the signs and treatments for clinical depression. Berklee now offers a full week of mental health awareness programming every fall.

Susan established the destination management company Uncommon Boston and co-authored a Boston guide book, Uncommon Boston: A Guide to Hidden Spaces and Special Places (Addision-Wesley, 1987). Susan also mentored and tutored children through Boston Partners in Education, worked in the library of the Boston Arts Academy, and co-founded with her husband and Kitty Dukakis the Israel Cultural Center at Zionist House.

Following retirement in 2004, Lee and Susan Berk remained active supporters of both the arts and Jewish culture, serving on boards and committees of several non-profit organizations. They founded the Sante Fe Friends of Jazz and the Jewish Arts and Culture Group of Sante Fe; Susan served as the president of the New Mexico Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; and Lee served as the state commissioner of music. Lee was a founding board member of the New Mexico School for the Arts and served as chairman of the New Mexico Music Commission. The Berks also served as advisers to the Phoenix Conservatory of Music, a member of the Berklee City Music program, and produced private jazz and classical concerts for their retirement community.

Lee and Susan’s daughters, Nancy and Lucy, both pursued careers in education.

Lee Berk passed away in October 2023.


17 Cubic Feet (6 records storage cartons, 4 half-sized document boxes, 3 half-sized LP storage boxes, 2 oversized flat storage boxes, 2 artifact boxes, 2 standard flat storage boxes.)

Language of Materials



Personal and professional material compiled by and about Lawrence, Alma, Lee, and Susan Berk from the 1920s through 2019, representing two generations of Berklee leadership (1945-2004). Materials include assorted Berklee documents and ephemera, artifacts and awards presented to members of the Berk family in recognition of their service and accomplishments, and other professional records or tributes. The collection also includes numerous scrapbooks, photographs, and audiovisual recordings capturing nearly 100 years of family memories and Berklee experiences.


This collection is arranged into five series, all of which have been arranged chronologically:

Series 1: Professional papers of Lawrence and Alma Berk (1941-1996), organized into three subseries: Schillinger House/Berklee College of Music (1945-1979), Other professional activities (1941-1942), and Awards and honors (1979-1995).

Series 2: Professional papers of Lee and Susan Berk (1970-2018), organized into four subseries: Berklee College of Music (1979-2004), Other professional activities (1970-1991), Post-retirement activities (2004-2018), and Awards and honors (1970-2014).

Series 3: Family papers (1925-2002), organized into two subseries: Biographical materials and Correspondence.

Series 4: Scrapbooks and photographs (1920s-2019 and undated), organized into two subseries: Scrapbooks and Photographs.

Series 5: Audiovisual recordings (1936-2012 and undated)

Acquisition History

Donated to Berklee Archives in multiple accessions between 2013 and 2022 by Lee and Susan Berk.

Related Materials

The Lawrence Berk papers on the Schillinger System, circa 1930s (BCA-007) comprise binders of notes, formulas, and other figures compiled and created by Lawrence Berk in the 1930s as a result of his private study with Joseph Schillinger.

The Berklee College of Music photographic collection by Alma Berk, 1940s-1980s (BCA-003) and the Berklee Office of Public Information collection by Alma Berk, 1934-2007 (BCA-013) represent the documentation and collecting efforts of Alma Berk in and beyond her role as Chief Public Information officer. In combination, these collections form the bulk of the College’s historical record from its founding through the 1990s.

Processing Information

This collection was received in many accessions over the years as the Berk family identified material in their homes and storage units and sent them to the Archives. Provenance of the material was frequently indeterminable, as many items arrived loose and/or with little to no description. Records spanned a mix of creators and subjects, often represented more than one member of the Berk family, and/or blended personal and professional activities. Processing staff established collection series, maintained file groupings in original order where discernable, sorted loose items by subject or creator, and imposed an overall chronological organization where dates were provided or inferred. Processing staff confirmed the arrangement scheme and received additional context and description on several items from Lee and Susan Berk via email, phone calls, and in-person visits. Supplied folder titles or other explanatory notes by processing staff are enclosed in square brackets.

Accessions that arrived after processing was mostly complete were assigned to existing series but not physically interfiled with earlier received material.

Given the substantial overlapping provenance and subject matter in the collection, contents may be duplicated across series. Excessive duplicates of clippings, programs, and circulars were reassigned to other collections or recycled. Some commercial publications were designated for the Berklee Library collections.

Berk Family Collection, 1920-2019
Sofía Becerra-Licha (2014); Ashley Gray (2023)
April 2023
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
The processing of this collection and the creation of this finding aid were completed with support from a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).
Edition statement
Second edition.

Revision Statements

  • 2022: This collection was reprocessed by Ashley Gray (Processing Archivist) and, in consultation with collection donors, retitled from the Lee Eliot Berk papers to the Berk Family collection. Reprocessing included the incorporation of several additional donations by the Berk family as well as the reassignment of vinyl recordings originally assigned to the Office of Public Information collection by Alma Berk (BCA-013).

Repository Details

Part of the Berklee Archives Repository

Berklee College of Music
1140 Boylston St
Boston MA 02215 USA