Frank Harrison was born in Dublin, Ireland. He studied music at Trinity College at Dublin University, where he earned his Doctorate of Music.
Harrison was the first resident musician at Queen's University. When he first took up the post in 1935, it was only part-time; he was a noted organist and had just been appointed as the organist for St George's Cathedral when he was invited to Queen's.
Harrison was, at first, the entire school of music, giving lectures, running a choir and an orchestra, and conducting concerts himself. His course in the history and appreciation of music was the first music course to be given for full credit at Queen's.
After his 10-year stay at Queen's, Harrison's career continued to blossom. He established a Music Department at Washington University in St. Louis and then lectured at Oxford University. From 1965 onwards, after returning from a trip to southern Mexico with his wife, Frank Harrison was interested primarily in ethnomusicology. During the 1970s, he was a Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Amsterdam.
Frank Harrison also wrote many publications, including one entitled Music in Medieval Britain. He received a great deal of international recognition for his work, and travelled the world doing field research.