Walking down Harlem’s Lenox Avenue, Bobbi Humphrey can’t help but stop every few feet to say hello to someone she has known for decades or to fans who have discovered her music recently. Celebrating 40 years as a professional musician, the jazz flutist shows no sign of slowing down as she continues to make her mark as a legendary musician.
Nowadays you can find Humphrey playing her whimsical sounds at area jazz festivals, restaurants, clubs and events all over. You can also catch her online, blogging, creating MP3 files of her latest tunes and using her iPad and smartphone.
As technology changes, Humphrey has changed with it, keeping her down-South flare. She didn’t shy away from ordering catfish at Sylvia’s restaurant during her interview with the Amsterdam News. She moved from her native Dallas to the Big Apple in the early 1970s and continues to be a staple in the Harlem jazz scene.
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Humphrey got her start as a young girl when she heard a flute in a symphony orchestra. She took up the instrument in the ninth grade. She got a full scholarship to the historically Black Texas Southern University, but graduated from Southern methodist University. She came to New York in 1971, where she competed at the Apollo Theater, winning several times. Within three weeks, she got her first record deal at the age of 21.
Among her catalog, some of her most beloved songs are “Harlem River Drive,” “Uno Esta” and “Please Set Me at Ease.” Humphrey has a wide range of awards that include keys to cities, awards from Ebony magazine and even advertising awards for commercial jingles.
“I record on my own terms now,” she said, speaking about her label, Paradise Sounds Records. “I’m mainly a creative artist, and I’m interested in creating what my spirit dictates. A lot of people have asked, where have I been? I’ve been with my family, still making music.”
A legend in the New York jazz scene, the “First Lady of Flute,” as she has been called, spends her time with her family, which includes two children and two grandsons. Her daughter is an award-winning poet with whom she has performed.
One of the first women to sign to Blue Note Records, she has recorded a total of 12 albums. A businesswoman in the music industry, she is also responsible for discovering R&B singer Tevin Campbell. Her friends include Stevie Wonder, who asked her to play on his hit song “Another Star”; the late Dizzy Gillespie, who encouraged her to move to New York; and Duke Ellington.
The recent deaths of several music legends have had anw impact on Humphrey. She reflected on the passing of soul legend and poet Gil Scott-Heron last year, who she called “one of the founders of modern hip-hop.”
“The last time I saw him was at Marcus Garvey Park, and I ended up playing with him on stage for the last time in 2010. We were friends for 40 years,” she said.
Along with creating music, Humphrey told the AmNews she recently completed a book that features affirmation poetry and nature photos she has taken. The book will also include a single. Humphrey is also working on several music projects, including her first gospel album. However, she says the art of creating things starts when she wakes up each day.
“I play my flute every morning on my porch. The birds respond to rhythmic patterns,” she said. “I try to create something every day.”
A strong advocate for artistic copyright law, she educates and mentors up-and-coming artists and gives lectures on intellectual property. While several hip-hop artists have legally used Humphrey’s music, she said she has been a victim of artists using her music unlawfully and not compensating her for it. She’s also savvy on the music business, always willing to give advice to those who want to enter it.
“The smartest businessperson surrounds themselves with people smarter than themselves,” she said. “It’s always important for any artists to have a publicist, a lawyer and an agent.”
More information on Humphrey can be found can be found on her website at www.bobbihumprey.net.
Note: This article was originally published on July 12, 2012