The Evolved Man of the Week: Donald Byrd

Welcome to the Evolving Man Project’s ‘Evolved Man of the Week’ profiles. Each week we will highlight an individual that embodies what it means to be an evolved man, famous and non-famous men alike. The world needs to know their stories and deeds. This week’s honor goes to Air Force veteran, musician, educator, and jazz legend, Donald Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd.

Byrd attended Cass Technical High School. He performed with Lionel Hampton before finishing high school. 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 the successor to Clifford Brown. In 1955, he recorded with Gigi GryceJackie McLean, and Mal Waldron. After leaving the Jazz Messengers in 1956, he performed with many leading jazz musicians of the day, including John ColtraneSonny RollinsThelonious Monk, and later Herbie Hancock.

Meanwhile, Byrd earned an M.A. in music education from the Manhattan School of Music, and he continued his music studies with noted teacher Nadia Boulanger (1963). He later became the first jazz teacher at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.; studied law; and received an Ed.D. degree from Teachers CollegeColumbia University, New York City (1982). Byrd invented soul-jazz fusion music, and his 1973 album Black Byrd became a hit. In the 1970s in Washington, D.C., while director of Howard University’s jazz studies program, he produced three top-10 albums by the Blackbyrds, a band composed of his students. He went on to help found jazz studies programs at other historically black schools, including Hampton (Va.) Institute (now Hampton University), North Carolina Central University, and Delaware State University. In 2000 Byrd was a recipient of a Jazz Masters award bestowed by the National Endowment for the Arts. He died on February 4, 2013, he was eighty years old. Today we honor the legendary Donald Byrd as our Evolved Man of the Week.

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