Last week in this column I featured the music of the Presidents, a Washington, DC group who hit it big with their single “5-10-15-20 (25-30 Years of Love)” in 1970. This week we return to the nation’s capitol which seems appropriate given the amount of attention that will be focused on DC between now and early November. Whether you support the incumbent or the challenger, one thing we can all agree on is that this week’s record is a great one. Besides, Nikki came into the room singing it last week, and that’s enough for me.
In the early ’70s, the legendary jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd was teaching at Howard University in Washington. In 1974 he decided to assemble a group made up of top student players from the university’s music program. With Byrd as their inspiration, and a deal with Fantasy Records, the Blackbyrds would record and tour for nearly ten years, finding a good deal of success along the way.
Although the group would record eight albums for Fantasy, there is no doubt that the high point of their career was the release of the single “Walking In Rhythm” in 1975. The song, written by guitarist Barney Perry, told the story of a man aching to get back home to his love. The record was produced by Donald Byrd, who gave it a smooth, jazz-inflected sound with plenty of soul in the mix.
“Walking In Rhythm” was recorded at The Sound Factory in Los Angeles in September, 1974, and by March of the following year, it was on the charts. There it would eventually make it all the way to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100, selling a million copies, and winning a gold disc award. The record was also nominated for a Grammy that year, and the track was on the band’s second album, “Flying Start”, which was released in 1975.
There would be other hits in the years to come. Most of them would climb the R&B chart, but a few crossed over to the Pop chart as well. The most successful Blackbyrds singles included “Flyin’ High” (1975), “Happy Music” (1976), and “Rock Creek Park” (1976). The latter song, which appeared on the City Life album, has been sampled numerous times by hip-hop artists like De La Soul, NWA, Eric B. & Rakim, and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five.
The members of the Blackbyrds remain active on the music scene today. From time to time there is talk of a reunion, and although they are known to have played together from time to time, there is no sign of an official comeback thus far.