Miami Beach Senior High Rock Ensemble Turns 40 and Its Creator, Doug Burris, Retires

The Miami Beach Senior High Rock Ensemble is a storied local institution.

Founded in September 1972, this program has allowed student musicians to travel the country and the world, playing as far away as Chicago and New York, as well as Japan in 2001. The ensemble has won award after award, even receiving a plaque of commendation from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 1999.

And behind it all is Doug Burris.

He is the music teacher who arrived at Beach High four decades ago with a simple idea: Set up an after-school guitar group. And thanks to an understanding principal, Dr. Solomon Lichter, the teacher and his pupils were even allowed to focus on rock music.

That all happened one year after Burris was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Miami Beach Senior High Rock Ensemble creator Doug Burris.

At this point in his illness, Burris is physically incapacitated, a quadriplegic who needs assistance every day of his life. But after speaking with him for even a brief period of time, it’s surprising when he has to ask for help to drink some water — because though his body is not responsive, his voice booms across the room. And it’s obvious he hasn’t lost any of his legendary will and passion.

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