By Bobby Sanabria
September 9, 2017 was a significant day in the borough of music as the late, great Donald Byrd (DP ’58, Trumpet; BM ’62, Trumpet; MM ’63, Music Education) was honored with a street named after him in the Bronx.
Donald Byrd, the legendary jazz trumpeter, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator, and NEA Jazz Master, moved from Detroit to the Bronx in the mid-1950s to pursue a Master of Music Education degree at Manhattan School of Music. He passed away on February 4, 2013 in Dover, Delaware, at age 80.
During the early years of his career, Byrd taught in the Bronx public school system. One of his students was Willie Colon, a young trombonist and soon-to-be salsa star. While teaching public school, Byrd grew into a legendary figure in the New York City jazz scene.
Later, Byrd mentored and helped establish The Blackbyrds, a rhythm and blues and jazz-funk fusion group. The Blackbyrds would go on to create influential crossover recordings that continue to be sampled by DJs all over the world.
To date, Donald Byrd is the fourth Bronx jazz legend to be honored with a street naming. Previous honorees include vocalist Maxine Sullivan, pianist Elmo Hope, and trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen. Additional anticipated namings will bring much-deserved recognition to the Bronx’s rich jazz history.
Many thanks to Bob Gumbs and City Council member Vanessa L. Gibson for pursuing this project and to Co-Artistic Director at the BMHC Elena Martinez for organizing the reception at the Bronx Music Heritage Center.
Congratulations to the Byrd family, and big ups to the place where only the strong survive and thrive – Da’ Bronx!