Rampal, one of the most recorded classical musicians in history, was best-known for his love of Baroque music, though he played everything from jazz to Indian music to English folk songs, said Sony Classical, his record label. Rampal's trademark was his gold flute, with which he never parted.
"His flute ... spoke to the heart," French President Jacques Chirac said in a statement. "A light in the musical world has just flickered out."
Rampal was born on Jan. 7, 1922 in the southern port city of Marseille, the son of a flute teacher who did not encourage his son to become a professional musician. Rampal's early interest was medicine.
He became serious about music during World War II, after Nazi occupying forces in France drafted him for labor in Germany. He left medical school and went underground in Paris, where he studied at the National Conservatory and attracted the Paris musical community's attention.
After the war ended, he became principal flutist in the Paris Opera's orchestra.
When Rampal began his career, the flute was often overlooked as a solo instrument, with audiences preferring more traditional solo works for piano and violin. During his decades-long career, Rampal helped propel the flute back into the spotlight.
He was much loved in North America, where he performed recital tours annually and topped Billboard charts.
Rampal also gained recognition as a conductor.
Rampal is survived by his wife, Francoise; two children, Isabelle and Jean-Jacques; and five grandchildren.
By ANGELA DOLAND