Alfred Reed was born on Manhattan Island in New York City on January 25, 1921. His formal music training began at the age of 10, when he studied the trumpet. As a teenager, he played with small hotel combos in the Catskill Mountains. His interests shifted from performing to arranging and composition. In 1938, he started working in the Radio Workshop in New York as a staff composer/arranger and assistant conductor. With the onset of World War II, he enlisted and was assigned to the 529th Army Air Corps Band. During his three and a half years of service, he produced nearly 100 compositions and arrangements for band.
After his discharge, Reed enrolled at the Juilliard School of Music and studied composition with Vittorio Giannini. In 1953, he enrolled at Baylor University, serving as conductor of the Symphony Orchestra while he earned the Bachelor of Music degree (1955). A year later, he received his Master of Music degree. His interest in the development of educational music led him to serve as executive editor of Hansen Publishing from 1955 to 1966. He left that position to become a professor of music at the University of Miami, where he served until his retirement in 1993. After retirement, he continued to compose and made numerous appearances as guest conductor in many nations, most notably in Japan. At the age of 84, on September 17, 2005, Alfred Reed passed away after a short illness.