Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II (December 9, 1932 – February 4, 2013) was an American jazz and rhythm & blues trumpeter and vocalist.[2] A sideman for many other jazz musicians of his generation, Byrd was one of the few hard bop musicians who successfully explored funk and soul while remaining a jazz artist. As a bandleader, Byrd was an influence on the early career of Herbie Hancock.

Donald Byrd
Donald Byrd musician.jpg
Background information
Birth nameDonaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II
Born(1932-12-09)December 9, 1932
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
DiedFebruary 4, 2013(2013-02-04) (aged 80)
Dover, Delaware, U.S.
GenresJazz, funk, jazz-funk, soul, R&B
Instrument(s)Trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals
Years active1954–2013
LabelsBlue Note, Prestige, Verve, Columbia, Transition
EducationWayne State University (B.A.)[1]
Manhattan School of Music[1]


Early life and careerEdit

Byrd was born in 1932 in Detroit, Michigan. His family came from the African-American middle-class. His father, Elijah Thomas Byrd, was a Methodist minister who greatly valued education and oversaw his son's schooling.[3][4] His mother, Cornelia Taylor, introduced Byrd to jazz music and it was her brother who gave Byrd his first trumpet.[4] He attended Cass Technical High School. He performed with Lionel Hampton before finishing high school. During this period, his first professional recording session was in 1949 at Fortune Records in Detroit with the Robert Barnes Sextette for the single "Black Eyed Peas" / "Bobbin’ At Barbee’s." After playing in a military band during a term in the United States Air Force, Byrd obtained a bachelor's degree in music from Wayne State University and a master's degree from Manhattan School of Music. While still at the Manhattan School, he joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers as Clifford Brown’s successor. In 1955, he recorded with Gigi Gryce, Jackie McLean and Mal Waldron. After leaving the Jazz Messengers in 1956, he performed with many leading jazz musicians of the day, including John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, and later Herbie Hancock.[2]

Byrd's first regular group was a quintet that he co-led from 1958 to 1961 with baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams. The ensemble’s hard-driving performances are captured live on At the Half Note Cafe.[2] Byrd's 1961 LP Royal Flush was Hancock’s Blue Note debut. Hancock has credited Byrd as a key influence in his early career, recounting that Byrd took the young pianist "under his wing" when he was a struggling musician newly arrived in New York, even letting him sleep on a hide-a-bed in his Bronx apartment for several years.

He was the first person to let me be a permanent member of an internationally known band. He has always nurtured and encouraged young musicians. He's a born educator, it seems to be in his blood, and he really tried to encourage the development of creativity.

Hancock also recalled that Byrd helped him in many other ways: he encouraged Hancock to make his debut album for Blue Note, connected him with Mongo Santamaria, who turned Hancock's tune "Watermelon Man" into a chart-topping hit, and that Byrd also later urged him to accept Miles Davis' offer to join his quintet.[5]

Hancock also credits Byrd with giving him one of the most important pieces of advice of his career – not to give away his publishing rights. When Blue Note offered Hancock the chance to record his first solo LP, label executives tried to convince him to relinquish his publishing in exchange for being able to record the album, but he stuck to Byrd's advice and refused, so the meeting came to an impasse. At this point, he stood up to leave and when it became clear that he was about to walk out, the executives relented and allowed him to retain his publishing. Thanks to Santamaria's subsequent hit cover version of "Watermelon Man", Hancock was soon receiving substantial royalties, and he used his first royalty check of $6,000 to buy his first car, a 1963 Shelby Cobra (also recommended by Byrd) which Hancock still owns, and which is now the oldest production Cobra still in its original owner's hands.[6]

Byrd in 1964

In June 1964, Byrd played with Eric Dolphy in Paris only two weeks before Dolphy died from insulin shock.

Electric ByrdEdit

By 1969's Fancy Free, Byrd was moving away from the hard bop jazz idiom and began to record jazz fusion and rhythm and blues. He teamed up with the Mizell Brothers (producer-writers Larry and Fonce) for Black Byrd (1973) which was, for many years, Blue Note's best-selling album.[7][8] The title track climbed to No. 19 on Billboard′s R&B chart and reached the Hot 100 pop chart, peaking at No. 88. The Mizell brothers' follow-up albums for Byrd, Street Lady, Places and Spaces and Stepping into Tomorrow, were also big sellers, and have subsequently provided a rich source of samples for acid jazz artists such as Us3. Most of the material for the albums was written by Larry Mizell.

In 1973, he helped to establish and co-produce the Blackbyrds, a fusion group consisting of then-student musicians from Howard University,[2] where Byrd taught in the music department and earned his J.D. in 1976. They scored several major hits including "Happy Music" (No. 3 R&B, No. 19 pop), "Walking in Rhythm" (No. 4 R&B, No. 6 pop) and "Rock Creek Park".

During his tenure at North Carolina Central University during the 1980s, he formed a group which included students from the college called the "125th St NYC Band". They recorded three albums; Love Byrd and Words, Sounds, Colors and Shapes which featured Isaac Hayes.[9] "Love Has Come Around" on Love Byrd became a disco hit, reaching number No. 4 on Billboard's U.S. Dance Club Songs[10] and in the UK and reached No. 41 on the charts.

Beginning in the 1960s, Byrd (who eventually gained his PhD in music education from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1982) taught at a variety of postsecondary institutions, including Rutgers University, the Hampton Institute, New York University, Howard University, Queens College, Oberlin College, Cornell University, North Carolina Central University and Delaware State University.[11] Byrd returned to somewhat straight-ahead jazz later in his career, recording three albums for Orrin Keepnews' Landmark Records.[12]

Byrd was a resident of Teaneck, New Jersey.[13] He died on February 4, 2013, in Dover, Delaware, at age 80.[7]


As leader/co-leaderEdit

As sidemanEdit


  1. ^ a b "Donald Byrd obituary". The Guardian. February 12, 2013. Retrieved January 26, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 209. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  3. ^ Schudel, Matt (February 11, 2013). "Donald Byrd, jazz trumpeter, dies at 80". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved April 8, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Broschke-Davis, Ursula (1986). Paris without regret : James Baldwin, Kenny Clarke, Chester Himes, and Donald Byrd. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press. pp. 97–118. ISBN 978-0-87745-147-1.
  5. ^ "Innovative jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd dies at 80". February 12, 2013. Retrieved October 17, 2015.
  6. ^ Tom Cotter, "The Watermelon Man and the Cobra", Road & Track magazine, August 2007
  7. ^ a b Yardley, William (February 11, 2013). "Donald Byrd, Jazz Trumpeter, Dies at 80". The New York Times. p. A28.
  8. ^ Huey, Steve. "Black Byrd (1972)". Retrieved October 17, 2015.
  9. ^ "When a Byrd Flew to North Carolina Central University". Retrieved July 31, 2020.
  10. ^ "Donald Byrd". Billboard. Retrieved July 31, 2020.
  11. ^ Dr. Donald Byrd Named Artist in Residence Archived July 28, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, DSU Press Release, September 4, 2009.
  12. ^ Ginell, Richard S.. Donald Byrd: A City Called Heaven – Review at AllMusic. Retrieved February 14, 2021.
  13. ^ "The State of Jazz: Meet 40 More Jersey Greats", The Star-Ledger, September 28, 2003, backed up by the Internet Archive as of September 27, 2008. Accessed September 15, 2017. "Donald Byrd – One of the masters of post-bop trumpet and a noted educator, Byrd lives in Teaneck."
  14. ^ "Donald Byrd". Blue Note Records. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  15. ^ "Donald Byrd | Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved January 21, 2019.

External linksEdit