The Blackbyrds were a jazz-funk group with thick R&B streaks running down their backs. Assembled by Donald Byrd in 1974, the group's original members -- percussionist Pericles "Perk" Jacobs, Jr., drummer Keith Killgo, keyboardist Kevin Toney, reeds player Allan Barnes, bassist Joe Hall, guitarist Barney Perry -- were mined from Howard University's music department, where the doctor and jazz legend was an instructor. (Other key players included guitarist Orville Saunders and saxophonist/flautist Steve Johnson.)
During the Blackbyrds' nearly decade-long existence, the group cut a handful of LPs (1973's The Blackbyrds, 1974's Flying Start, 1975's City Life, 1976's Unfinished Business, 1977's Action, 1980's Better Days); scored films (1975's Cornbread, Earl and Me); and supported artists like B.B. King, Mandrill, and Roberta Flack. "Walking in Rhythm," "Rock Creek Park," and "Happy Music" are their three best-known cuts; they have remained underground club classics, and they have been kept alive, in part, through sampling.