Barbara Ann "Bobbi" Humphrey (born April 25, 1950) is an American jazz flutist and singer who plays fusion, jazz-funk and soul-jazz styles. Humphrey has performed for audiences around the world. She recorded twelve albums and founded the jazz label Paradise Sounds Records. In 1971, she was the first female instrumentalist signed to Blue Note Records.
Humphrey was born in Marlin, Texas, and raised in Dallas. She graduated from Lincoln High School, Dallas, in 1968. Her flute training included classical and jazz styles in high school. She continued her studies at Texas Southern University and Southern Methodist University. Dizzy Gillespie saw Humphrey play at a talent contest at Southern Methodist, and inspired her to pursue a musical career in New York City. She followed his advice, moving to New York in June 1971 and getting her first big break performing at the Apollo Theater on Amateur Night.
Within weeks of arriving in New York, Humphrey was signed by George Butler to Blue Note Records. She had already begun playing regularly throughout the city, including joining Herbie Mann on stage in Central Park and an impromptu performance on The Tonight Show. She was asked to join the final band of trumpeter Lee Morgan, performing on his last Blue Note LP in 1971. Morgan contributed to Humphrey's first album, Flute In, in 1971 before dying in 1972.
Humphrey has played with well-known musicians, ranging from Duke Ellington to guitarist George Benson. Benson and Humphrey were guest musicians on Humphrey's friend Stevie Wonder's single "Another Star" from his Songs in the Key of Life (1976) album. In 1976, she was named Best Female Instrumentalist by Billboard.
Bobbi Humphrey has played at the Apollo Theatre, Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, Montreux Jazz Festival, Russian River Jazz Festival (Northern California), and other venues around the world. She cites Hubert Laws, Herbie Mann, and James Moody as key influences.
Blacks and Blues, recorded in 1973 with the Mizell Brothers, was one of her biggest selling albums on Blue Note and is considered a landmark jazz album. This album shifted away from the straightaway jazz style of her first two albums, produced by George Butler. Humphrey sought out the Mizell Brothers after their work on Donald Byrd's Black Byrd, which combined funk with jazz. Blacks and Blues was recorded in three days at the Sound Factory. In "Harlem River Drive" and other tracks, Humphrey's playing was entirely improvisational. As Humphrey recalled in an interview in 2006, "In other words, they would play the track in the background and just tell me to play to it. There was no written melody. Growing up, the music they listened to was doo-wop. And from that background, they intrinsically understood harmony. So they would already have the chord changes and background vocals laid out. I just played what I felt off the top of my head against that." In addition to flute instrumentation, Humphrey sings vocals on "Just a Love Baby" and the album's last track, "Baby Gone".
Satin Doll, recorded in 1974, continued to innovate this emergent crossover genre of soul jazz and funk. The album is dedicated to Duke Ellington, who died shortly before the album went to press, and its cover art features Humphrey's daughter, Ricci Lynn.Fancy Dancer marked Humphrey's third and final collaboration with the Mizell Brothers. It includes Latin percussion and harp instrumentation by Dorothy Ashby. For her next album, Tailor Made, she switched to Epic Records.
Despite high album sales, Humphrey did not see much of her Blue Note albums' financial success. In 1977, Humphrey moved into the business realm of the music industry. She incorporated Innovative Artist Management as well as a publishing business, The Bobbi Humphrey Music Company, which signed an agreement with Warner Brothers in 1990. Humphrey brought Tevin Campbell into the music industry and was involved in his negotiations with Warner Brothers. In 1994 Humphrey launched her label, Paradise Sounds Records, releasing Passion Flute.
Humphrey's work, especially Blacks and Blues, has been widely sampled in works by artists such as Eric B. & Rakim, Grand Puba, Digable Planets, Mobb Deep, Ludacris, and Ice-T. In 2002, Common reached out to Humphrey and ask her to play on his album Electric Circus. She is also featured on Guru's 2000 song, "Choices". Humphrey's tracks have continued to influence hip-hop. Humphrey is heavily sampled in Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y's 2013 album Live in Concert.
|1971||Flute In||Blue Note|
|1972||Dig This!||Blue Note|
|1973||Blacks and Blues||Blue Note|
|1973||Bobbi Humphrey Live: Cookin' with Blue Note at Montreux||Blue Note|
|1974||Satin Doll||Blue Note|
|1975||Fancy Dancer||Blue Note|
|1979||The Good Life||Epic|
|1990||Let's Get Started||Warner Bros|
|1994||Passion Flute||Paradise Sounds|
Stevie Wonder appeared on "Home Made Jam" which was recorded during the Freestyle sessions in 1977/78, and released as the lead track on Bobbi Humphrey's second Epic album in 1978.Home Made Jam was released as one of Bobbi Humphrey's first disco 12" singles and gained airplay across the US, UK and Europe. The 7" and 12" single also carried another track as its b-side from the album called "Sunset Burgundy" which in itself became popular with radio stations and DJs of the day. The 2011 CD remastered Freestyle album included the 12" extended version of "Home Made Jam" as well as the edited version of "Sunset Burgundy" as bonus tracks.
Bobbi Humphrey's last album for Epic was The Good Life, recorded in 1978/79 at Rosebud Recording Studios, New York. The album is notable for the list of supporting musicians that included Richard Tee, Eric Gale, Ralph MacDonald (who produced the album), Christopher Parker, and a young Marcus Miller. Each musician was involved in New York's contemporary jazz scene at the time. The Good Life LP (Epic US Cat No: JE/BL 35607) was re-released as an expanded edition CD in August 2014 on the Funky Town Grooves label in the US and UK, after the original album was deleted from Sony's catalogue in the 1990s.