Richard Humphrey, 82

Drummer, bandleader

September 16, 2007

Richard E. Humphrey, a self-taught drummer and showman who anchored several Baltimore bands, died Thursday of complications from a heart attack at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air. The Bel Air resident was 82.

Born in Baltimore in 1925, Mr. Humphrey later attended high school in Elizabeth, N.J., where he taught himself to play the drums and formed his own band. He learned by watching his favorite drummer, Gene Krupa, who played with Benny Goodman during the big-band era.

He made further use of his musical skills after enlisting in the Navy in 1943. He served in the Admiralty Islands, Scotland and England, and played for officers in a three-piece band.

After being discharged from the Navy, he joined the Army, and was stationed in Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Despite never learning to read music, he was a drummer in the 371st Army Band, once playing for President Harry S. Truman.

After leaving the Army in 1948, Mr. Humphrey returned to Baltimore and took a job with Electro-Protective Corp. installing burglar alarm systems, a job he held for 41 years. He married Alma T. Fritz, but the couple divorced after 28 years of marriage. They had three children.

In 1981, he married Joyce A. Stiffler, a woman who shared his love for music and played tambourines and bongos in a band he formed. First named The Solitudes, the band played jazz, Latin American and big-band music at weddings and Baltimore-area nightclubs.

"He just loved music," said a daughter, Susan Glascock of Bel Air. "Everything about his life was music."

He was also a showman, she said, playing five-minute solos while walking around his drum set, a maneuver that occasionally prompted the rest of the band to climb up on the bar as they played.

Because Mr. Humphrey played by ear, a friend would transcribe songs he created into musical notation, so the rest of the band could play along.

In 1993, Mr. Humphrey changed the band's name to Borrowed Time, to reflect its members' senior citizen status. In 2002, it was renamed The Commanders Orchestra and played exclusively at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

"He just wanted to brighten up their lives and give them entertainment," Ms. Glascock said.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the Johnson Funeral Home, 8521 Loch Raven Blvd.

Survivors include another daughter, Carol Zarbos of Bel Air; a son, R. Craig Humphrey of Linthicum; a brother, Robert Humphrey of Dallas; a sister, Joan Glenn of Scott Depot, W.Va.; and five grandsons.

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