About Richard Harriman

Richard L. Harriman, Kansas City’s beloved performing arts impresario and founder of the Harriman-Jewell Series, died on Thursday, July 15, 2010, at the age of 77. Harriman had leukemia.

A public memorial service was held on Sunday, August 8, 2010, at the John Gano Memorial Chapel, on the William Jewell College campus in Liberty, honoring Richard’s contribution to the Kansas City community in the College venue where the Series took root and where the Professor became the Impresario. The afternoon tribute included performances by pianist Conrad Tao and tenor Michael Fabiano accompanied by pianist Calvin Permenter. 

Pianist Emanuel Ax, a giant among performing artists of our day, played a benefit recital in tribute to Harriman on Monday, November 8, 2010, in Kansas City's Folly Theater. The pianist had previously played for the Series 10 times, most recently in a duo recital with pianist Yefim Bronfman in 2008, and has appeared four times with cellist Yo-Yo Ma beginning with his Series debut in 1984. This longstanding relationship is evident in Ax’s request to play the benefit concert in memory of Richard.

"Richard Harriman made an enormous contribution to William Jewell College and to the entire Kansas City community," said William Jewell College President David Sallee at the 2010 public memorial service. "His remarkable, intuitive sense of seeking out artists whose careers were ascending led him to introduce us to some incomparable performers over the course of 45 incredible seasons on the Series that bears his name. He was devoted to enriching the lives of others by sharing with them his passion for the performing arts. It was a generous gift that he gave freely to generations of Jewell students and to audience members in the larger community."

Harriman’s uncanny ability to recognize “star-in-the-making” talent was not developed through formal study (his career path began as an English professor at William Jewell College), but as an impassioned arts patron who grew up in Independence, Mo., attending as many downtown Kansas City performances as he could. While in the U.S. Army in the early 1950s, Harriman was stationed in Washington D.C., and caught trains to New York City on days off to continue his informal training in the performing arts. “His taste, intuition, and gentle personality are regarded throughout the performing arts industry,” said Andrew Grossman, vice president of Columbia Artists Management, New York City.

Iconic tenor Luciano Pavarotti famously sang his professional recital debut in 1973 for the William Jewell College Fine Arts Program that Harriman co-founded in 1965. Pavarotti returned four times to sing on the campus in Liberty, and in downtown Kansas City venues. The college-affiliated organization is now known as the Harriman-Jewell Series, in honor of Richard Harriman, and presents from 16 to 20 music, dance, or theatre events in downtown Kansas City each year. 

"Though we mourn his passing, we celebrate his legacy," College President Sallee added. "On a personal note, Richard was also a wonderful colleague and friend. As an alumnus of the College, he embraced the finest elements of the liberal arts tradition. He was a true believer in the power of education to illuminate and transform, and his life was a testament to those deeply held beliefs.”

Over the first 45 years of the Series under his artistic guidance, Harriman’s namesake organization became a treasured part of the cultural landscape of Kansas City and the entire region. By 2010, the Harriman-Jewell Series had presented more than 850 events and 19 American recital debuts by prominent artists, including today’s leading tenors Juan Diego Flórez, Ben Heppner, Salvatore Licitra, and Clifton Forbis. Dance Magazine called the Harriman-Jewell Series “one of the nation’s premier presenting organizations,” while the Smart Parents Guide to College cites the Series as a prime example of how small colleges “can become centers of culture for an entire region.”

The Series, under Harriman’s leadership (first as director and then as artistic director) attracted the finest vocalists and instrumentalists, ensembles, orchestras, and dance companies in the world. “Cezanne called the Louvre ‘the book in which we learn to read,’” said Terry Teachout,William Jewell College graduate and drama critic for the Wall Street Journal. “The Harriman program was the book in which I learned to see, hear, and love the performing arts. It gave me a golden yardstick of taste—one I still use to this day.” [Read Terry Teachout's July 15, 2010, tribute to Richard Harriman.]

In a 2003 announcement to patrons of his transition to the specialized role of artistic director, Harriman reiterated his confidence in his longtime protégé, Clark Morris, who became executive director of the Series. “It’s not Clark’s longevity that qualifies him to lead the program; that decision was based on his proven ability,” Harriman said. “Many of our patrons will remember my formal announcement of the transition plan at the Marilyn Horne recital gala in 2000. I said then that my father retired at 87 and, after he had been sitting around the house a few weeks, my mother claimed that it was too early. As long as I am able, I plan to actively contribute to the program’s success.” True to his word, Richard Harriman continued his role in the Series and actively pursued his passion.

Harriman’s persistence in bringing internationally renowned artists has resulted in creating audiences who appreciate, expect, and support the best in the arts. Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, tenor Clifton Forbis, baritone Daniel Belcher, and dancer/choreographer David Parsons are acclaimed performers who grew up in the Kansas City area and attended Series events during their formative years. 

[Read Joyce DiDonato's July 16, 2010, tribute to Richard Harriman.]

The Kansas City Star Editorial Board wrote that “no one will ever be able to calculate how the presence of some of the world’s most superb artists before area innocents influenced the development of resident music, dance and theater companies. What Harriman has done...has multiplied in countless, wonderful ways.” 

Contributions can be made to the Harriman-Jewell Series’ Richard L. Harriman Fund for Excellence in the Arts. Please call the Series’ development office at 816-415-7814 for information or donate online.

Read Richard Harriman's obituary

 
One of the legacies Richard Harriman left Kansas City was the discovery of new artists. Richard greets superstar Luciano Pavarotti at the Kansas City airport prior to the tenor's 1983 recital. Mr. Pavarotti sang five recitals for the Series, including his professional recital debut in 1973.

One of the legacies Richard Harriman left Kansas City was the discovery of new artists. Richard greets superstar Luciano Pavarotti at the Kansas City airport prior to the tenor's 1983 recital. Mr. Pavarotti sang five recitals for the Series, including his professional recital debut in 1973.