Byrd was born Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II in Detroit in 1932 and began his career with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in the 1950serforming alongside the likes of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk and Herbie Hancock.While his roots were in bebop he later became equally renowned for soul and funk, and particularly jazz fusion. He went on to become one of jazz label Blue Note's most significant artists, for whom he recorded most of his releases, including the 1973 album Black Byrd, which became the label's biggest ever seller.
Long after his commercial peak, Byrd's influence continued to be felt in popular music, sampled by hip-hop artists including Public Enemy, Nas, the Pharcyde and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and house producer Armand Van Helden. Byrd's legacy is summed up by his nephew's Facebook tribute: "Let's remember Donald as a one of a kind pioneer of the trumpet, of the many styles of music he took on, of music education. In sum, Donald was an avid, eternal student of music, until his death. That's what I try to be, everyday!! Rest in peace, uncle!"