Trumpeter Donald Byrd was born in Detroit in 1932, his studies at Wayne State University (1954) were interrupted by military service, during which he played in an Air Force band. He then attended the Manhattan School of Music (MA in music education). At the same time he was the favorite studio trumpeter of the bop label Presitge (1956-58), though he also recorded frequently for Riverside and Blue Note.
He gave performances with George Wallington (1955), Art Blakey (1956), and along with Gigi Gryce was a member of the Jazz Lab Quintet (1957). He also performed with Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and others, before settling into a partnership with Pepper Adams (1958-61). After studying composition in Europe (1963-63) Byrd began a career in black music education, teaching at Rutgers, the Hampton Institute, Howard University, and (after receiving a law degree, 1976) North Carolina Central University; in 1982 he was awarded a doctorate by Columbia Teachers College.
Following the death of Clifford Brown in 1956, Byrd was for a few years arguably the finest hard-bop trumpeter. He had not only a masterful technique, displayed on all his albums from this period, but also a beautiful tone. He resumed playing in the 1970s and made several pleasant recordings in a jazz-rock style. His best-selling album Black Byrd led to the formation of his students into the Blackbyrds, a hit group of the mid-1970s.