Flutist Amber Underwood wants the flute to have more of its day in the spotlight. Often considered an auxiliary instrument, her jazz solos are filled with a raw edginess that showcases the beauty of the wind instrument all on its own. "I play original songs, contemporary soul, smooth jazz, R&B and pop songs," she tells EBONY. "My music is rich and smooth with just enough grit to give the flute a modern sound and to attract a new audience of listeners."
Here Underwood shares how her father's love of jazz drew her to the genre and what it means to be "Flutienastiness."
EBONY: When and why did you take up the flute?
Amber Underwood: When I first took up the flute in fifth grade, I didn’t necessarily want to play the flute, but I did want to be in the band. At the time, my father would play music in the house: Motown Soul, R&B and Jazz. I would often ask him about an instrument I heard in the music. He told me I was hearing the saxophone, so from that moment on I wanted to play the saxophone just like I was hearing on those records.
So how did you get to the flute?
We could join the band at school once we were in fifth grade, and I immediately told the teacher I wanted to play the saxophone. But they told me no and that I should play the flute or the clarinet instead. I didn’t want to play the clarinet, so I decided to try the flute because my friends were also playing the flute, and I have been hooked ever since.
Tell us about your album.
It's called This is Me. This album touches on all of my feelings and life journeys and is an inside look into Amber "Flutienastiness" Underwood as a person beyond the stage. This album is for all the female artists and musicians who have been criticized or not accepted when it comes to their work, art or music and felt like they didn't belong. This Is Me is my testimony that all things are possible and not to be scared to create your own lane.
What do you say to people who can't envision a Black woman playing the flute?
I would tell people who can’t envision a Black woman playing the flute to close their eyes, listen to the music and let the flute do all the talking. I’m not here for those whose views are rooted in ignorance. Instruments were not made for only one particular group or race. I know there needs to be more representation of artists like myself. I see my role as an artist is to keep playing and to break down those barriers and walls not only for artists but flute and musical organizations, symphonies, orchestras, conservatories, music schools, flute brands, companies, music teachers and all the other stereotypes that are put on the instrument.
Any encouraging words for future Black flutists?
I encourage my fellow Black flutists to embrace who they are and the instrument they play. The colors of the flute bring out the richness of being a Black musician. It gives us the advantage of creating a lane in a way few have been able to explore, and it allows us to be trendsetters. Embrace being unique and unapologetic about your Blackness, culture, talent, musicality and musicianship to become the ultimate “Flutienastiness” player!