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Past Events

Harlem Speaks
Bobbi Humphrey
March 16, 2006



Bobbi Humphrey, special guest of Harlem Speaks on March 16, 2006, told story after story of her youth, her early career in New York, her cognizance of the history of jazz as well as her philosophy on life and music.
 
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Her family lived across the street from a juke joint in which Humphrey heard the blues as she slumbered in the front room of the family home in Dallas, Texas. She regularly attended church in those days, so she was also marinated in gospel music. At school, she learned about European classical music, and became enamored with the flute upon hearing a beautiful flute part of Tchaikovsky’s Peter Gunn at the age of 11. But she didn’t pick up the instrument until she was 15, by when she had taken to jazz.

She progressed on the instrument rapidly, so much so that when Dizzy Gillespie judged a solo competition in Texas where she took second place, he urged her to go to New York. “He told me that he voted for me,” Humphrey remembered, “and that if I went to New York I would find a place in the music industry, while no one would remember the guy who won.”

So, she took her country self to New York intent on getting a recording contract. Eliciting barrels of laughter, Humphrey related her experiences upon arriving to New York and meeting a crazy person who called himself “the wild man,” and being rescued by none other than flute virtuoso Hubert Laws, who met her in his Porsche, which she thought was a Volkswagen!

Literally within days, she found herself on a bus with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, with whom she played “C Jam Blues” at a venue in New Jersey, and then at the Apollo Theatre Amateur Night, where she met members of the Four Tops and Stevie Wonder, who became her life-long friend.

 

She also told the audience the tale of walking into the United Artists building, only to discover that the offices of Blue Note records were there. With youthful confidence and naiveté she sauntered to the front desk in hot pants, and announced that she was there because she was ready to make a record! The secretary was so impressed, and moved at seeing Humphrey’s disappointment after being told that she had to have an appointment before seeing Dr. George Butler, that she took Humphrey’s 8-track tape recording of her playing and gave it to her boss.

Within days, Humphrey got a call from Butler, who signed her immediately. She soon recorded a straight-ahead Blue Note date with Philadelphia trumpet legend Lee Morgan, who then played on her first recording date a few months later.

She also discussed her own hit recordings; her social and cultural contributions via civic engagement; and her business dealings with Warner Brothers as a manager of R&B singer Tevin Campbell, and why she doesn’t buy the notion that playing fusion and “cool jazz” is selling out: “When someone once asked me if I had ‘sold out’ I told him that I hoped my recordings sold out at the record stores!” She believes her music is based in love, and reaches the hearts of people.

After fielding questions from the audience, she concluded the evening by explaining the basis for her love of Harlem, where on any given day she can be found at her “office” at Nubian Heritage on 126th and Fifth Avenue, or restaurants such as MoBay Uptown or the new eatery/club Baton Rouge.

 
 

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