Donald Byrd Dead at 80

The jazz trumpet player leaves behind a far-reaching legacy.

Posted: 02/07/2013 05:13 PM EST
Donald Byrd

The music world lost one of its most influential jazz artists this week, with the passing of Donald Byrd. Initially thought to be an online rumor, the trumpter's nephew Alex Bugnon confirmed today via Facebook that Byrd died on Monday, February 4. No details have been released about his cause of death, according to Amoeba.com.

"Let's remember Donald as a one-of-a-kind pioneer of the trumpet, of the many styles of music he took on, of music education," wrote Bugnon, a jazz keyboardist.

Born December 9, 1932, Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II first picked up a trumpet while attending Detroit's famed Cass Technical High School, which was also host to Diana Ross and David Alan Grier. He excelled in jazz, and played alongside many greats, including John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Sonny Rollins and Herbie Hancock. He was a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and became a household name in the '70s with his group the Blackbyrds, which included several students he taught at Howard University. Big singles for the group included "Happy Music" and the Grammy-nominated "Walking in Rhythm."

But Byrd's reach extended far beyond jazz. Hip hop fans have been nodding their heads to his music for years, even if they didn't know it. Nas (on "N.Y. State of Mind" and "Get Down"), Public Enemy (on "Fear of a Black Planet") and Ice Cube (on "I Wanna Kill Sam") are just a few of the artists who have sampled his music. Both Erykah Badu and late producer J Dilla covered his song "Think Twice," and he worked with Guru on volumes one and two of the hip hop/jazz mashup album Jazzmatazz.

In addition to teaching at Howard, Byrd taught his craft at Cornell University, Delaware State University, Hampton Institute (University), New York University, North Carolina Central University, Oberlin College, Queens College and Rutgers University. His legacy will live on, through his music and the students he inspired.

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(Photo: David Redfern / Redferns / Getty Images)

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