Harrison was born in La Porte, Indiana, and spent most of her childhood home schooled; but she attended La Porte High School, and graduated. As a child, she studied under Victor Heinze, eventually commuting between La Porte and Chicago to continue lessons with him. She spent most of her time in Berlin performing recitals and performing with the Berlin Philharmonic. She later returned to the United States, and while performing in Chicago received sponsorship to travel back to Europe. During the next several years, Harrison continued her studies with Hugo van Dalen in Berlin. Van Dalan arranged for Harrison to have an audition with Italian composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni; after hearing her, Busoni, who had previously refused to accept more students, decided to oversee her training. She then began performing as a concert pianist both in Europe and the U.S., eluding much recognition in the U.S. in spite of the fact that she was lauded in the black press.
In 1931, Harrison accepted a job as the head of the piano department at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Ralph Ellison took a comment by Harrison as the starting point for one of his essays, The Little Man at Chehaw Station.
In 1936 she moved to Washington, D.C. and accepted a teaching job at Howard University, where she remained until retirement in 1955. While teaching, Harrison still performed in the United States, and after retirement she accepted positions at Alabama A&M University and Jackson College.
- Reveal, Judith C. (2000). "Harrison, Hazel". Women in World History, Vol. 7: Harr-I. Waterford, CT: Yorkin Publications. pp. 23–24. ISBN 0-7876-4066-2.
- Richardson, Deborra A. (1994). "Harrison, Hazel (1883–1969)". Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 540–541. ISBN 0-253-32774-1.
- "Harrison, Hazel (1883-1969)". encyclopedia.com. Gale Research Inc. Retrieved 13 Dec 2018.
- Cazort, Jean E. and Hobson, Constance Tibbs, Born to Play: The Life and Career of Hazel Harrison, Greenwood Press, 1983 ISBN 0-313-23643-7
- Walker-Hill, Helen. Piano Music by Black Women Composers: A Catalog of Solo and Ensemble Works, Greenwood Press, 1992 ISBN 0--313-28141-6
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