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the blackbyrds

The Blackbyrds

The original Blackbyrds were formed in 1973 by jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd.

The line up, at various times, consisted of:

Allan Curtis Barnes (b. 27th September 1949, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. d. 26th July 2016, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.) (reeds)

Barney Blair Perry (b. 1953, Buffalo, New York, U.S.A.) (guitar)

Kevin Kraig Toney (b. 1953, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. d. 18th March 2024, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.) (keyboards)

Joseph Hall, III (b. 1954, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.) (bass)

Pericles 'Perk' Jacobs, Jr. (b. 1951, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.) (percussion)

Keith Killgo (b. 1954, Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.) (drums)

Jay Jones

Orville Saunders

Steve Johnson


Wesley Jackson

The Blackbyrds were formed in Washington D.C. in 1973, and were the soul music protégé's of Professor Donald Byrd, who in turn was the protégé of the jazz musician Clifford Brown.

Donald lectured at the Howard University in D.C., and it was his surname which formed part of the group's band title.

Whilst at high school in Washington, D.C., Keith Killgo, Orville Saunders, and Joe Hall had played together in a band called Second Stage.

Keith and Orville later transferred to the Howard University and hooked up with Donald Byrd, and the Detroit born pianist, Kevin Toney.

The Blackbyrd's then signed with the Fantasy Records imprint in 1973.

The BlackbyrdsFlying Start

the blackbyrds - 1974 / flying start - 1974

In 1974, they released their debut album, the cover of which was a Vincent Van Gogh borrowed design from his late 19th Century painting 'Wheatfield With Crows'.

Wheatfield with Crows

Wheatfield with Crows - 1890 Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

The album featured the Donald Byrd penned dancer, 'Do It Fluid', and was produced by Donald and his production collaborator Larry Mizell.

'Flying Start' was released later that year, and featured their 1975 U.S. Top 10 single, 'Walking In Rhythm' (which charted the following year).

'Walking In Rhythm' received a Grammy nomination, and sold over one million copies by May 1975.

Cornbread, Earl and MeCity Life

cornbread, earl and me - 1975 / city life - 1975

1975 saw two releases by the group. 'Cornbread, Earl & Me' was the soundtrack to a movie, whilst the mainstream release, 'City Life', featured the club dancer 'Rock Creek Park', along with the U.S. Top 20 song, 'Happy Music'

Unfinished BusinessAction

unfinished business - 1976 / action - 1977

'Unfinished Business' followed in 1976, featuring the club dancers 'Time Is Movin' and the bass driven title track.

'Action' was released in 1977, and showcased a mellower side to the group's C.V., highlighted by the classic 'Soft & Easy', 'Dreaming About You', and the equally moody 'Mysterious Vibes' (later covered by the Japanese group Sunburst in 1980).

Night GroovesBetter Days

night grooves - 1978 / better days - 1980

In 1978, an album of remixes saw the light of day, entitled 'Night Grooves' (featuring remixes of 'Walking In Rhythm' and 'Rock Creek Park').

In 1980, the group recorded the album 'Better Days' under the production wing of George Duke.

The Blackbyrds went their separate ways shortly afterwards although various members have achieved solo success in the jazz field during the following decades.

During their career, the group supported the likes of B.B. King, Mandrill, and Roberta Flack.

Donald Byrd briefly reformed the Blackbyrds in the spring of 1994 and returned to the studio, with plans for a forthcoming release, however, nothing came to fruition.

Blair blair 1978

Barney Perry released a solo album under the name Blair in 1978 (through his own Solar Sound imprint, which featured the club classic 'Night Life').

'Rock Creek Park' has been sampled many times since it's initial release, by the likes of De La Soul, Eric B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, NWA, Massive Attack, Ice Cube, Heavy D, Nas and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five.

Gotta Fly

gotta fly - 2012

In 2012, Keith Killgo reformed the group for a new album entitled 'Gotta Fly', which was released on the CD Baby imprint.

Allan Barnes passed away in 2016.

Kevin Toney died in March 2024 from cancer.

The Blackbyrds

Real Player


The Blackbyrds (Fantasy Records 1974)

Flying Start (Fantasy Records 1974)

Cornbread, Earl And Me (Fantasy Records 1975)

City Life (Fantasy Records 1975)

Unfinished Business (Fantasy Records 1976)

Action (Fantasy Records 1977)

Night Grooves (Fantasy Records 1978)

Better Days (Fantasy Records 1980)

Gotta Fly (CD Baby/Indys Records 2012)

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