MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Clark “Doug” Burris, whose legacy as the teacher who launched the first official “School of Rock” and inspired many of his students to pursue professional musical careers, died Thursday at his Miami home following complications from multiple sclerosis. He was 73.
Burris, who founded the Miami Beach Senior High School’s Rock Ensemble more than 40 years, made a remarkable impact on his students and the community.
Burris continued teaching even after his illness confined him to a wheelchair and left him unable to play any musical instruments. However, this did not deter him from teaching. In fact, many students say this inspired them to work harder.
Their efforts paid off. Many have gone on to become very successful in the industry.
They include David Chesky, Class of 1973, who created his own jazz music label; Ann Curless, a member of the 1980s hit band Expose whose music received numerous top spots on the Billboard Hot 100 and Adam Chester who works as Elton John’s rehearsal pianist. He graduated in 1981.
Hours after his death was announced by his niece Sara Burris on Facebook, the remembrances and honors poured in from heartbroken students.
“He was more than a great man,” Adam Chester wrote on Facebook. “We laughed together, we cried together and we made unbelievably beautiful music together. Who becomes friends with their high school music teachers? Almost every single one of his students.”
Fernando Perdomo, who graduated in 1998 and went on to work as a musician with numerous well-known artists including The Wallflowers’ Jakob Dylan, wrote this on Facebook: “It’s been a tough few months for rock star deaths. This is the Big One. Clark was the most amazing Rock Star I ever met…My music teacher could not play music, he was music. I love you forever Mr. Burris. Every note is for you from now on.”
His Rock Ensemble program taught thousands of students. Many received numerous awards. Burris was featured on CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood back in 2000.
When he retired from teaching in April of 2012, CBS4’s Entertainment Reporter Lisa Petrillo was there to document the occasion. Before he retired, he staged a major musical event that included performances by former students.
At the time, Burris said this about teaching, “I love watching the kids play music, they bring their own personality and character to the music. The Rock Ensemble has been my prize , it’s something I put together 40 years ago.”
At the time, Burris expressed how difficult it was to say good-bye to teaching.
“We all know everything comes to an end, but it’s surreal to realize that this is the end of my career here,” Burris said.
In addition to his niece, Burris is survived by his sister Priscilla Gay Janks and brother David Dicks Burris.
A memorial will be held at 3 p.m. February 21st at Miami Beach Senior High School, located at 2231 Prairie Ave. A memorial fund has been established in his name Clark D. Burris Scholarship.
Checks may be sent to:
Miami Beach Senior High Alumni Association
2000 NW 150th Avenue, Ste. 2106
Pembroke Pines, FL 33028