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Donald Byrd, one of the country’s leading jazz trumpeters in the 1950s and 1960s, has died at age 80. He was later known for his experimentation with jazz, R&B and funk in the 1970s and 1980s.
According to The New York Times, Byrd died on Feb. 4 in Dover, Delaware. Haley Funeral Directors of Southfield, Michigan confirmed his death, but his family has not released a statement.
He was born Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II in Detroit, notes The Los Angeles Times, soaking in the city’s jazz influences. He then moved to New York in 1955 and quickly became an in-demand trumpeter. Byrd worked with legends such as Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins.
Byrd spent the 1960s teaching and remained an advocate for music education. In 1973, his career took a new turn with Rock Byrd, an album that made him a pop star. Byrd brought in guitars and a funk groove to compliment his trumpet and the album reached No. 88 on the Billboard 100 chart.
Another notable hit was Thank You ... for F.U.M.L.’s “Loving You.”
Byrd was criticized for abandoning jazz standards. In 1982, he commented, “Then the jazz people starting eating on me...They had a feast on me for 10 years: ‘He’s sold out.’ Everything that’s bad was attributed to Donald Byrd. I weathered it, and then it became commonplace. Then they found a name for it. They started calling it ‘jazz fusion,’ ‘jazz rock.’”