He lived his first nine years in Portland, Oregon, where he was born in May 14, 1917. Residences since then include Central California, Los Angeles, New York City (ten years), North Carolina, the San Francisco Bay region, Oaxaca, New Zealand, and the Monterey Bay region where he lives now. His studies were with Howard Cooper, Henry Cowell, Arnold Schoenberg, and Virgil Thomson. He is the recipient of several grants and awards, including Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fellowships. Mr. Harrison has established himself as one of the most original and important American composers of the 20th century.
As Mr. Harrison likes to point out, American composers must often do other things to support themselves. Among these he has been a record salesman, an animal nurse, a journalist, a florist, a forestry firefighter, and dance accompanist. He is a poet, painter, calligrapher, and type face designer in addition to being a composer. He has helped to introduce the Indonesian gamelan to the United States and, with William Colvig, has constructed two large gamelans now in use at San Jose State University and Mills College.
Ned Rorem has said, "Lou Harrison's compositions demonstrate a variety of means and techniques. In general he is a melodist. Rhythm has a significant place in his work, too. Harmony is unimportant, although tonality is. He is one of the first American composers to successfully create a workable marriage between Eastern and Western forms."