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Donald Byrd dies: Jazz musician was 80

02/11/2013 by Corinne Heller

Jazz and R&B musician Donald Byrd, known for his contributions to hard-bop jazz mainstream music in the 1950's and 1960, has died at age 80.

The trumpeter passed away on February 4 in Delaware, according to the official website of the Michigan-based Haley Funeral Directors group, which is handling his funeral arrangements. Services are private.

His death was announced on Monday. The cause was not disclosed.

The musician was born Donaldson Toussaint L'Overture Byrd in Detroit on Dec. 9, 1932. His father, a Methodist minister, had named him after the 1800s-era leader of the Haitian Revolution.

"Toussaint L'Ouverture was a general who died in a penal institution in Paris in exchange for the freedom of his people," Byrd told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1989. "He and my uncles deliberated for a week as to what my name should be. The idea of a namesake is to remind you what you're supposed to be about. The only place it appears is on my various diplomas. It takes up all the space, too."

Byrd played in a military band while serving in the United States Air Force and later went to college and lived in New York.

He earned a master's degree from Manhattan School of Music, where he played with the group Jazz Messengers. He left the band in 1956 and then performed with top jazz musicians, namely famed pianist Herbie Hancock.

He was a music professor at several colleges, including Rutgers University, Howard University, New York University the Hampton Institute, Queens College, Oberlin College, Cornell University, North Carolina Central University and Delaware State University.

In the 1970s, he teamed up with the Mizell brothers to release the 1973 album "Black Byrd." He formed several groups with students he taught throughout the next decade -- The Blackbyrds, which produced hits such as "Happy Music" and "Walking In Rhythm," and Donald Byrd & the 125th St NYC Band. The band recorded the alum "Love Byrd," which featured Isaac Hayes on drums.

Byrd also earned two master's degrees and a law degree from Columbia University and a doctorate from Columbia University Teachers College.

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