Monday, May 13, 2013

Musician Harry T. Burleigh Was Born in Erie

Harry T. Burleigh, an internationally known baritone vocalist and musical arranger, was born in Erie, PA on December 2, 1866. Unfortunately, his former home at 137 East 3rd Street was demolished to make space for a parking lot. The Harry T. Burleigh Street Marker was dedicated on May 16, 2013 in the Bagnoni Council Chambers at Erie City Hall.

According to the Erie Dispatch, Harry Burleigh graduated from Erie High School and moved to New York City to study music after borrowing $25 from Lewis Adams of the First Presbyterian Church. Burleigh won a scholarship from the National Conservatory of Music and later studied under composer Anton Dvorak. Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary School in Erie is named in his honor. 

Burleigh was a very interesting man. He learned traditional African-American spirituals from his grandfather, a former slave, and later performed these songs throughout the world. The book "Hard Trials" by Anne Key Simpson chronicles the life of Harry T. Burleigh, who died in 1949, in great detail. Click here to learn more about Mr. Burleigh and hear a sample of his music. The Blasco Memorial Library in Erie has a CD called "Deep River: Songs and Spirituals of Harry T. Burleigh."

Enjoy more historic facts and photos of Erie, PA at:


  1. The late Rev. Charles Kennedy Jr. (who died four years ago at age 59) used to do a one-man show about Burleigh and his music. There was a DVD made of one of the performances, which would be good for the library's collection.

    There is a Harry T. Burleigh Society, founded by Charles, though I don't know how active it has been since his passing.

    I worked with Charles on a number of recording projects and have fond memories.

    1. Tom, the Burleigh Society is still around, even though not as active since Charles is no longer with us. We were instrumental in getting the street surrounding his birthplace the Harry T. Burleigh Way (3rd and French and the Lawrence Family Way on W. Front Street. Charles was the artistic part of all we did but we are still carrying forward his legacy in other non-traditional ways.