Sol Berkowitz was born in Warren, Ohio, on April 27, 1922 and lived in New York since 1925. He received his BA in music from Queens College in 1942 and an MA from Columbia University in 1946. He studied piano with Abbey Whiteside and composition with Karol Rathaus, Harold Morris and Otto Luening.
Berkowitz was the composer of hundreds of songs, dozens of chamber works, orchestral works, ballet scores and several musicals such as “Nowhere to Go But Up,” produced on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1962, with Sidney Lumet as director. He did dance arrangements for the original production of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” and composed the score for “Miss Emily Adams,” a musical produced Off-Broadway in 1960 at the Theatre Marquee in New York.
He received a Ford Foundation Grant to compose an opera, “Fat Tuesday,” first performed at the Tamiment Playhouse in Tamiment, Pennsylvania in 1956. (The summer theater program known as “Camp Tamiment” operated in the Pocono Mountains from 1920-1960. Alumni include Danny Kaye, Imogene Coca, Carol Burnett, director Max Liebman, choreographer Jerome Robbins, composers Sylvia Fine and Mary Rodgers, and writers Woody Allen and Neil Simon.)
Berkowitz was a staff composer for the “Gary Moore Show” on CBS for the 1963-64 season, and for the CBS show “Entertainers,” featuring Carol Burnett during 1964-65, the Sid Caesar show on NBC in 1965 and the Ice Capades for the 1965 USA and Canadian tour. The Royal Canadian Ballet will feature his arrangements of Beethoven’s Scottish Songs with choreography by Elliot Feld in this coming season. He has nearly 100 titles of music published by Theodore Presser, E.H. Morris, Pro Art, Ludwig, Broude, Chappell, Inc., Frank Music and Lawson-Gould (G.S. Schirmer). His music is recorded on Capitol, RCA Victor, Columbia, Mercury, Kapp, CRI and Epic labels.
Berkowitz joined the full-time Queens College faculty in 1946 and resigned in 1961 to pursue a career as a composer for Broadway, film and television. He returned to the faculty in 1967 where he remained until his retirement in 1999. Berkowitz was well known as an educator and author and co-author of several widely used books on musicianship: A New Approach to Ear Training (with Fontrier and Kraft) and Improvisation Through Keyboard Harmony (both W.W. Norton). He was especially known as a teacher of ear training, musicianship, theory and orchestration. Among the many excellent musicians he taught at Queens College were jazz pianist Mal Waldren, Harvard professor Lewis Lockwood, jazz guitarist Billy Bauer and composer Bright Sheng.
Berkowitz was preceded in death by his beloved wife Pearl, brother David, and sister Sophie Grayson.