The Blackbyrds

The Blackbyrds were an American soul-funk band from Washington, D.C., named after the 1973 album by trumpeter and band-mentor Donald Byrd, who taught the members at Howard University. They released six albums and a soundtrack between 1974 and 1980 on Fantasy Records.

Members: Kevin Toney (piano, synthesizer, vocals), Keith Killgo (drums, percussion, vocals), Joe Hall (bass, vocals), Alan C. Barnes (saxophone, clarinet), Orville Saunders (guitar, vocals), Barney Perry (guitar), Jay Jones (flute, saxophone), Steven Johnson (saxophone), Pericles “Perk” Jacobs Jr. (percussion), Wesley Jackson (saxophone, flute)


During the early 1970s, jazz trumpeter and Blue Note recording artist Donald Byrd worked by day as a music teacher at Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1973, he assembled some of his top students into a band he dubbed The Blackbyrds, named after his then-recent album Black Byrd.

The original Blackbyrds lineup featured keyboardist Kevin Toney, singer/drummer Keith Killgo, bassist Joe Hall, saxist/clarinetist Allan Barnes, and guitarist Barney Perry. Barnes played reeds on the namesake Byrd album, recorded the prior year in Hollywood.

As a teacher, Byrd constantly challenged the member’s playing skills and had them listen attentively to the masters of jazz, blues, and classical music.[1] Though he initially intended to have them serve as his backing band, he quickly saw their potential as a standalone unit. Months after their formation, he secured them a deal with Fantasy Records.

The Blackbyrds

The Blackbyrds released their self-titled debut album in June 1974 on Fantasy.

Flying Start

The Blackbyrds released their second album, Flying Start, in November 1974 on Fantasy.

Cornbread, Earl and Me

In June 1975, The Blackbyrds released Cornbread, Earl and Me, the coming-of-age basketball drama starring Laurence Fishburne in his film debut.

City Life

The Blackbyrds released their fourth album, City Life, in November 1975 on Fantasy.

Unfinished Business

The Blackbyrds released their fifth album, Unfinished Business, in November 1976 on Fantasy.


The Blackbyrds released their sixth album, Action, in September 1977 on Fantasy.

Better Days

The Blackbyrds released their seventh album, Better Days, in December 1980 on Fantasy.


  • The Blackbyrds (1974)
  • Flying Start (1974)
  • City Life (1975)
  • Cornbread, Earl and Me (OST, 1975)
  • Unfinished Business (1976)
  • Action (1977)
  • Better Days (1980)



  1. B&S:The Blackbyrds: Talking in Rhythm

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