Mary Lou Humphrey

September 30, 1953December 23, 2012

“I love language's ability to communicate subtle shadings of meaning and to reveal deep psychological insights, as well as abstract music's capacity to express human emotion. I hope never to lose a sense of wonder and awe over life's possibilities.” — Mary Lou Humphrey

Mary Louise Humphrey, age 59, died in Phoenix on December 23, 2012. The cause was cancer.

Born in Phoenix to Pat and George Humphrey, she attended Madison Elementary No. 2, Camelback High School, and graduated from Arizona State University in 1973 with a degree in music. While there, she studied the clarinet and discovered a passion for music history. After graduation, she moved east to New York City where she pursued doctoral studies at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center. At CUNY, her passion for musicology led her to specialize in 20th-century music and contemporary concert music—with a specific focus on the music of German composer Alban Berg. A member of the International Alban Berg Society, her scholarly research, and in-depth articles and essays continue to stand as references for ongoing studies in the field.

Ms. Humphrey’s professional career began at New York City Opera (NYCO), where she worked closely with renowned soprano Beverly Sills, who – after a successful singing career at the company -- also served as general director. NYCO offered her the opportunity to become well-rounded in opera stage craft (lighting, costumes, production, direction, etc.) and she took a special interest in dramaturgy as well as bringing new operas to life. While there, she had the opportunity to participate in many acclaimed productions including the noted world premiere of Anthony Davis’ opera X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X.

After leaving NYCO, Ms. Humphrey joined the staff of famed classical music publisher G. Schirmer. With her expertise in opera and contemporary music, her contributions at G. Schirmer resulted in international promotion of the Schirmer catalogue throughout Europe. She also participated directly in many symphonic and operatic world premieres of such established American composers as John Corigliano, Stephen Albert, and Joan Tower. She was also instrumental in nurturing the early careers of contemporary music award-winners Tan Dun, Aaron Jay Kernis, Bright Sheng, and Richard Danielpour – for whom she provided dramaturgical insight for his opera Margaret Garner and worked closely with his librettist Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison. Her gifted writing resulted in several composer monographs, numerous annotated program notes and disc liner notes, as well as published articles in major music and arts journals including the International Alban Berg Society Newsletter, the New Grove Dictionary of Opera, and the Grove Dictionary of American Music.

While at G. Schirmer, Ms. Humphrey became a passionate collector of contemporary art; and after leaving, she continued to write professionally. Her most recent scholarly offering is an updated biographical entry of composer Aaron Jay Kernis which will appear in the second edition of The New Grove Dictionary of American Music to be released in 2013.

Survivors include Pat Humphrey, mother; and Sue Humphrey, sister. Mary Lou was preceded in death by her father, George Humphrey.

Services will be held Friday, December 28, 10 am at St Francis Xavier Catholic Church, 4715 North Central Avenue in Phoenix. Burial will be at St. Francis Cemetery, 2033 North 48th Street, Phoenix.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions are welcome at Hospice of the Valley, 1510 E. Flower Street, Phoenix, AZ 85014, or the Red Cross, 520 West 49th Street, New York, NY 10036.

The family wishes to thank the staff at Hospice of the Valley for all their help and support.


  • Funeral Mass Friday, December 28, 2012

Mary Lou Humphrey

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Mary Ross Collis

April 22, 2013

I knew Mary Lou since Madison #2. She was an amazing, gifted girl. I only learned of her passing when I read her mother's obituary. My heart goes out to Sue and all who knew and loved Mary Lou. May God bless her.

Bright Sheng

January 7, 2013

So sorry she is no loner with us. What a wonderful and warm person she was! She will be deeply missed.

Marin Alsop

December 30, 2012

I am so sorry to hear about Mary Lou's passing. My heartfelt condolences.
Marin Alsop

Alice Kornhauser

December 29, 2012

Mary Lou was one of the most passionate and inspiring people I have been blessed to know. My heartfelt sympathies to her family and loved ones, and to the art and artists whose work she shone her light on.

Sally Schmidt Knotwell

December 28, 2012

Bless you, Mary Lou....I remember you fondly.

Bill Holab

December 28, 2012

I worked closely with Mary Lou at G. Schirmer for 10 years and we enjoyed lively passionate debates about music and publishing. For the people who came to know her, the impression was indelible and long lasting. I still remember many of our conversations, and they will probably stick in my mind for years to come. My sincere condolences to her family.

Robin Byram

December 28, 2012

Amazing beautiful soul.

December 27, 2012

Mary Lou,
Was a wonderful friend to all of the Isbin family. We always enjoyed her sweetness. She will be missed by all of us.
Amie Noun, Ira Isbin, and Herb Isbin

Sharon Isbin

December 27, 2012

You were an artist and visionary who gave light and joy to the world, and helped so many to realize their dreams. We will always miss you.

Megan Marshall

December 27, 2012

I currently work at New York City Opera and grew up in Phoenix. Nice to know a someone from my home town preceded me there! Thank you Mary for your work in music!