Craighead was born in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. He studied with Alexander McCurdy at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, receiving a Bachelor of Music degree in 1946. While at Curtis he met his future wife Marian Reiff, also a pupil of McCurdy. They married in 1948.
Craighead was also organist of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Rochester, a position he held for 48 years.
He recorded works of Johann Sebastian Bach, Pierre du Mage, César Franck, Felix Mendelssohn, Olivier Messiaen, Samuel Adler, Paul Cooper, Lou Harrison, William Albright, Vincent Persichetti, Max Reger, Leo Sowerby, Dudley Buck, and Louis Vierne.
He was a featured performer at many national conventions and international congresses of the American Guild of Organists, and was voted the 1983 International Performer of the Year by the New York City chapter of the American Guild of Organists. He was also an honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Organists. Craighead was the first recipient of Eastman’s Eisenhart Award for Teaching Excellence. In the fall of 2008, Eastman dedicated the Craighead-Saunders pipe organ at Christ Church in honor of him and his fellow Eastman organ professor, Russell Saunders.
He died, aged 88, at his Valley Manor home in Rochester, New York, survived by his daughter, Betsy and his son, Jim.
- "Eastman School Professor Emeritus of Organ David Craighead Dies – Eastman School of Music". Esm.rochester.edu. 1924-01-24. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
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