The Blackbyrds – an introduction
The Blackbyrds are an American R&B and jazz/funk group known for their hits such as “Happy Music,” “Rock Creek Park” and their most successful song “Walking In Rhythm.” They first formed in 1973. During their existence in the music business they released very successful albums, most particularly from the label Fantasy. In 1975, their single “Walking In Rhythm” became a Top pop hit and sold over a million copies. They also scored in films such as 1975’s Cornbread, Earl and Me, and supported other artists including Roberta Flack, Mandrill and B. B. King. They have influenced many artists in the funk and hip-hop circuit such as Light Of The World, Hi-Tension, Gang Starr, Da Lench Mobb, Full Force. The Blackbyrds reformed in 2012. The following year Byrd (who has pursued a solo career) passed away.
How did the Blackbyrds form?
The core of the original Blackbyrds was formed by trumpeter Donald Byrd in Washington D.C., in 1973. Other members also included Howard University students: keyboardist Kevin Toney, drummer/vocalist Keith Kilgo, bassist Joe Hall, saxophonist/clarinet player Allan C. Barnes, Barney Perry in guitar and flutist/saxophonist Jay Jones. All other members were students from the university’s music department, where Byrd had a position there as an instructor.
“Walking in Rhythm”
The R&B and jazz-funk fusion group signed to Fantasy Records also in 1973, and issued their first single “Black Byrd,” which became a minor pop hit that same year. Around the same time, they released their self-titled debut album.
After releasing about a couple of minor hits, in 1975 the Blackbyrds achieved their first major hit with “Walking in Rhythm,” from their sophomore album Flying Start. It soared on the charts, peaking at #6 on the pop chart. It also went to #5 on the adult contemporary singles chart and #4 on the R&B singles chart that year. “Walking in Rhythm” was penned by their guitarist Perry. The single sold over a million copies and was given a “gold” certification.
The Blackbyrds’ other singles and albums on Fantasy label
Other significant hits by the Blackbyrds include 1975’s “Flyin’ High” (#70 pop, #25 adult contemporary, #22 R&B) and 1976’s “Happy Music” (#19 pop, #18 dance, #3 R&B), as well as other R&B Top 40 chart placers between the years 1976 to 1980 (such as “Time Is Movin’,” “Soft and Easy” and “Supernatural Feeling.”
In the group’s stay with Fantasy in the years 1974 to 1980, the Blackbyrds released eight albums (including a compilation release): The Blackbyrds (1973),Flying Start (1974), City Life (1975), Cornbread, Earl and Me (1975; original motion picture soundtrack of the film of the same name), Unfinished Business(1976), Action (1977), their compilation release Night Grooves (1978) and Better Days (1980).
The Blackbyrds’ music proved to be great influence and impact to future acts such as Light of the World, Hi-Tension, Gang Starr, Da Lench Mobb, Full Force, Wiz Khalifa, De La Soul, Massive Attack, Ice Cube and many others. The Blackbyrds’ music has often been sampled by some of these abovementioned artists, most especially the songs “Walking in Rhythm,” “Rock Creek Park” and “Happy Music” which have also become underground club staples.The Blackbyrds were reformed by Kilgo in 2012; Byrd, who had forged a solo career and also taught music in other institutions such as New York University, died in February 2013.