Donald Byrd, one of the most fearless artists in modern jazz, died earlier this week at the age of 80. It has only now been confirmed that Byrd died under undisclosed reasons. His nephew, Alex Bugnon, made it public, revealing that Byrd died on Feb. 4 and the family wanted to keep the news private.
Bugnon said that he didn’t want to hide the truth any longer.
“I have no more patience for this unnecessary shroud of secrecy placed over his death by certain members of his immediate family,” Bugnon posted on Facebook.
“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. In sum, Donald was an avid, eternal student of music, until his death. That’s what I try to be, every day!! Rest in peace, uncle!”
Born in Detroit, Byrd played in the Air Force military band before graduating from Wayne State University and obtaining his master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music. He joined the legendary Art Blakey’s Jazz Massengers in the late ’50s and began making his mark as one of the most accomplished trumpeters of his era.
One of the foremost players in hard bop, Byrd nonetheless was creatively restless and unrelenting in his open-minded approach to jazz. He formed the fusion group The Blackbyrds in the ’70s, and proceeded to dabble in everything from soul to funk music. It was during this period that he released hits like “Happy Music” and teamed with producers-writers the Mizell Brothers and released his top-selling album, Black Byrd.
Throughout his career, Donald Byrd played with luminaries like Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Herbie Hancock. And in later years, Byrd’s music has been re-worked and sampled by countless artists, most notably Public Enemy, Nas, Pharcyde, and fellow Detroit musical legend, the late J. Dilla.