She has been named “First Lady of the Flute” by the critics and listeners alike and, from the accomplishments in her musical career, deservedly so. For three decades now, Bobbi Humphrey has been playing her special brand of music to audiences around the world. Her professional career began in 1971 when she was the first female signed to Blue Note Records.
Certainly a lady playing a flute must have seemed something of a novelty then. Humphrey proved, however, she was not just a “first” or novelty, but a talent to be reckoned with. For in 1973, her LP, Blues and Blues was not only a huge commercial success, but established a strong crossover market for her. Also, in 1973, she was invited to the prestigious Montreux International Music Festival in Switzerland where Leonard Feather, noted critic of the Los Angeles Times, acclaimed her “the surprise hit of the festival”. Since then Humphrey has continuously proved her sustaining power, for today she is the only successful female urban-pop flutist on the scene. Further proof is the fact that she was acclaimed “Best Female Instrumentalist” (1976 and 1978 to both Billboard and Record World, and “Best Female Vocalist” in Cashbox. This is certainly a milestone for any instrumentalist.
Born in Marlin, Texas and raised in Dallas, Humphrey’s training on flute began in high school and continued through her years at Texas Southern University and Southern Methodist University. It was there that Dizzy Gillespie spotted her when he served as a judge in a school-wide competition . With Gillespie encouraging her to pursue a career in New York City, Humphrey wrote a letter to New York’s famed Apollo Theatre and received a telegram soon afterwards telling her, “We have reserved a spot for you on Amateur Night”. She didn’t take further convincing , nor did she have trouble finding her “spot” in the music industry.
The title of one of her Epic LPs The Good Life, best describes her career. Humphrey has played with the best, ranging from Duke Ellington (her third day in New York) to Lee Morgan to Stevie Wonder (featured on Songs In The Key of Life LP in 1977). Between 1971 and 1976, Bobbi recorded six albums for Blue Note Records. In 1974, she recorded the successful Satin Doll LP.
1977 was another big year for Humphrey. For the third consecutive year she was voted “Best Flutist” in Ebony Magazine Reader’s Poll. She was signed to Epic Records. She was invited back to the Montreux Music Festival., and honored with the Key to New Orleans. It was not only a year of musical growth but of commercial expansion as well, because in 1977 Humphrey formed Bobbi Humphrey Music Company to publish her compositions as well as composers. She also formed Innovative Artist Management to handle her business affairs.