Our lives are often measured by the experiences we have, the values we live by, the ideas we share with others as well as, our families traditions. As we move through life’s journey we have an opportunity to create our legacy through our gifts or circumstances. The Donald Byrd Cultural Foundation (DBCF) is rooted in my connection and respect for the Byrd Family legacy inspired by the leadership of my late grandfather, Rev. Elijah Byrd and the accomplishments of my late father jazz trumpeter and educator, Dr. Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II. My father was named after his uncle Donaldson Byrd and his middle name was added in honor of Toussaint L'Ouverture the French General of Haiti. The impact of his career in music and education has sparked the creative and musical talent of many musicians, artist and thought leaders that have left powerful artistic expressions for the world. I look forward to using DBCF as a platform to connect the next generation to artistic resources giving each young person that is touched an opportunity to commit to their academic endeavors and discover an area of expression that will fortify the legacy they hope to establish.
My father is a pioneer and a true example of a legacy builder. He used his gifts and asserted his beliefs in learning and the power of knowledge first recognized at Howard University starting in the late 1960’s. He led a jazz band and developed a music studies program that opened the doors for many students. In 1973, he formed the Blackbyrds, a group consisting of students from Howard University. During this time he started to experiment with jazz fusion and R&B sounds and teamed up with writers/producers, Larry and Fonce Mizell also Howard students. This collaboration resulted in several major hits including “Happy Music”, “Walking in Rhythm” and “Rock Creek Park”. The music has been sampled more than 200 times with the 1975 Places and Spaces album at the top of the list. In the 1990”s his trumpet solos were included on records by Public Enemy, Nas, Erykah Badu and Guru. Although Hip Hop was different in tone and style from the music he was most known for at the time; he saw his musical gifts as a bridge to new artist as he believed their genre of music was the continuum. He has often been noted to say that “African American Music reflects the tenor of the time.”
My father continued his pioneering force in establishing jazz studies in American universities, colleges and music conservatories beyond Howard. While touring he collected art and pursued degrees from Manhattan School of Music for a Master’s and then a Doctorate from Teachers College. In 2000, the National Endowment for the Arts presented him a Masters Award.
I am most appreciative of his influence and resources in ensuring that I attended the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. The results of my college experience led to my own career in education as a teacher and administrator for 25 years.
I now look to join forces with my wife, family, fellow educators, musicians, artist and stakeholders in the community, to lift a powerful legacy of self-expression, leadership and academic pursuits. It is my hope that all those that support the mission of DBCF will be encouraged to teach and inspire a young person along the way.