The name of late legendary jazz bassist and Peabody alumnus Joe Byrd has become permanently associated with Peabody’s principal jazz performance space with the formal rededication of East Hall as Joe Byrd Hall. The renaming of the hall took place last February 28 at a concert by the Peabody Jazz Orchestra and honored a gift made to the Peabody Institute by Byrd’s widow, Elana Byrd. Their gift has also established the Joe Byrd Scholarship in Jazz Studies.
“Joe was so grateful for the education he received at Peabody,” notes Elana Byrd. “He always felt lucky to have such a long career doing what he loved, and in his memory I am honored to be able to help other young musicians start on that path.”
Joe Byrd graduated from the Peabody Conservatory in 1962. In a performing career that spanned more than four decades, Byrd played at the White House for Presidents Johnson, Ford, and Carter and traveled to more than 100 countries as a goodwill ambassador for the State Department. The list of jazz luminaries with whom he collaborated is long and includes his eldest brother, guitarist Charlie Byrd; saxophonists Stan Getz and Coleman Hawkins; pianists Teddy Wilson and Mose Allison; singer Jimmy Witherspoon; and guitarist Herb Ellis. In addition to Joe Byrd’s work as a performer, he and his wife produced and promoted jazz series at venues in Annapolis, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.
“Our students today have the benefit of Joe Byrd’s influential work and recordings,” noted former Peabody Institute Director Jeffrey Sharkey at the rededication last winter. “Now they also have the benefit of his and Elana’s generosity to Peabody. Their gift strengthens the jazz studies program here for generations to come.”