Roger Humphries is a drummer, teacher, recording artist, leader of the self-titled band RH Factor, and as of this February, the Northside’s Mardi Gras King. A native Northsider, he built his life around music.
By Atiya Irvin-Mitchell
Photo by Ahmed Sandidge
When you meet Roger Humphries, you meet someone completely at ease. His older brother taught him to play his signature instrument, the drums, before he turned five. Humphries has never known a life without music.
“I had support from my whole family about my music,” he remembers.
A drummer, teacher, recording artist, leader of the self-titled band RH Factor, and as of this February, the Northside’s Mardi Gras King, Roger Humphries has built his life around music.
A native Northsider, Humphries became a professional at age 14 and achieved considerable accolades within the City of Pittsburgh, playing jazz clubs and leading an ensemble at Carnegie Hall at age 16.
Humphries left the “Steel City” in 1962 to pursue his music career. He joined the Horace Silver Quintet, toured Europe with the band twice, and played at the Monterey Jazz Festival. The 75-year-old cultivated his place in the world of jazz by playing with the likes of Grant Green and Ray Charles.
Humphries fondly remembers Charles as a kind man and excellent chess player.
“Growing up in the music world, you think you’d never get the chance to play with him,” Humphries says. “But I did.”
While, he considers his time on the road time well spent, what drew him back to Pittsburgh was his family.
“I grew up in a large family and to me, family’s very important because you can’t go back and relive something that you wanted to do,” Humphries said. “Music is very important in life, but I wanted to take the vibe that I got in New York back to Pittsburgh.”
Humphries was the youngest of 10 children. With four children and a marriage to his wife, Regina, spanning 55 years, he never regretted his decision to move back. When he returned to Pittsburgh, Humphries continued to find joy in performing, but his life as a musician took a different tune: He became a teacher at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School (CAPA) and the University of Pittsburgh, respectively.
“My school with music was always studying at the nightclub with other musicians and I didn’t know if I’d be capable at first,” Humphries admits. “But I figured out I had something to share with the students and I enjoyed seeing them make progress and who they became in the music world.”
Looking back, Humphries says his time teaching increased his understanding of music.
Flitting from New York to New Orleans and finally back home—in fact, living across the street from the place where he was born and grew up, Humphries has lived a fast-paced life.
Humphries seems to have no plans to slow down. He’s looking forward to benefits, singing commitments with friends, and his annual Jazz on the River Jazz/Salsa Boat Ride.
“My plans for the future are to try to continue sharing the music and passing on the help that was given to me,” Humphries says.
“There’s nothing like music. No matter what field you get into you can separate yourself from the world, just you and your music.”