John A. Harris, who co-founded New York City's Singers Forum and helped establish its summer camp in Brocton 11 years ago, died of dementia Saturday in Canterbury Woods Nursing Home, Amherst. He was 77.
Born in New Orleans, Mr. Harris graduated from Juilliard School of Music, where he studied under a four-year Juilliard Opera Theatre scholarship. He performed with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Leonard Bernstein and sang more than 25 lead roles with opera companies in Atlanta, New York and Washington. His resume also included Town Hall recitals and European lieder concerts.
He taught voice at Lee Strasberg Theater Institute and was an adjunct professor in New York University's Gallatin Division.
In 1979, Mr. Harris and noted voice coach Andy Anselmo started the Singers Forum, where they taught the bel canto method to Liza Minnelli, Brooke Shields, Regis Philbin, Alec Baldwin and Geraldine Fitzgerald, among others.
In 1996, he and Mr. Anselmo, who has spent every summer since childhood on the Chautauqua County farm that his grandparents owned, established the Singers Forum camp at Fredonia State College's retreat center in Brocton.
The seven-day, high-intensity camp for performers began with adult students but eventually expanded to Brocton's Tri-Church building, where younger performers are taught breathing technique.
Mr. Harris, who was artistic director of Singers Forum, received the Andy Anselmo Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003, two years before he retired.
Surviving are Mr. Anselmo, his partner of 40 years, and a sister, Stella True.
A celebration of Mr. Harris' life will be at 11 a.m. Friday in Perna-Pellegrino Funeral Home, 1671 Maple Road., Amherst.