Richard Harriman, the soft-spoken creator and longtime leader of one of the city’s most influential and beloved performing-arts series, died Thursday. He was 77.
Harriman began the William Jewell Performing Arts Series 45 years ago, presenting some of the most prominent names in classical music and dance and introducing Kansas City audiences to up-and-coming performers.
For example, Harriman, a notable talent scout, in 1973 brought a soon-to-be-famed Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, to Kansas City for his first recital in the United States.
Harriman’s track record for presenting Russian orchestras, master instrumentalists and the world’s greatest singers helped cement Kansas City’s reputation for supporting the fine arts at a level far beyond expectations.
The concert series was renamed in his honor in 2000, a switch refined six years later to its current identity as the Harriman-Jewell Series.
Harriman remained executive director until 2003, and then took on a role as artistic director.
Harriman was an avowed literary scholar, an English professor at William Jewell College in Liberty, who humbly professed an amateur’s interest in music and the other arts. But after co-founding the performing arts series in 1965 (with another professor, Dean Dunham Jr.), he built it into an essential element of Kansas City’s high-arts cultural scene.
The series, currently housed at the Folly Theater, is expected to move its larger presentations to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts after it opens in fall 2011.