Billy Harper's unique music creativity was first noted in Houston, Texas, where, at age 5, he was singing at sacred and secular functions and participating in choral and solo singing events. By age 14, he formed his first Billy Harper Quintet while a student at Evan E. Worthing High School. Graduating cum laude, he went on to study saxophone and music theory at North Texas State University and received his Bachelor of Music degree. He continued graduate studies at NTSU and became a member of their big band. That year, 1965, the University's big band won first prize at the Kansas Jazz Festival.
Harper moved to New York in 1966 and began attracting attention from some of jazzdom's giants - Gil Evans, Max Roach, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. He performed, recorded and toured Europe, Japan, Africa and throughout the United States from 1966 to 1979 with these groups, as well as his own Billy Harper Quintet.
The Billy Harper Quintet began receiving notoriety of its own. In 1966, Harper and his ensemble group were highlighted on the NBC-TV special, The Big Apple. With more exposure came bigger audiences and bigger demands for appearances.
Throughout Harper's career, there has been a pattern of spiritual growth and innovation. Says Harper: My feeling is that music should have a purpose. In the past, it always has been used for healing and uplifting and meditation. And that's the way I see my music. I've had people come up after a program to tell me that they felt a spiritual healing from the music. When that happens, then I feel we're fulfilling what we're supposed to do. If people are entertained, that's ok too. But I certainly see a purpose in my music beyond that.