Debra Byrd Dies: ‘American Idol’ & ‘The Voice’ Vocal Coach Was 72

Debra Byrd, a vocal coach for such shows as American Idol, The Voice and others, died March 5 in Los Angeles. She was 72 and no cause or location was given.

Byrd’s students included Grammy winners, recording artists, actors, musicians and Broadway stars. She worked closely with Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson, Bob Dylan, Barry Manilow and many others.

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Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, Byrd attended Kent State University and studied at the Karamu and Dobama Theaters. She went on to perform with Barry Manilow for many years, touring around the world as part of Ladyflash, the featured backup group for   Manilow.

They released one hit of their own in 1976, “Street Singin’.” The tune, which was written and arranged by Manilow, reached No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

“This is one of the saddest days of my life,” Manilow wrote on X/Twitter. “I just can’t wrap around the fact that Debra Byrd is no longer with me. She was one of the most wonderful friends I’ve ever had. I will miss you forever, my love.”

“I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that no one was a better mentor, coach, teacher, or champion to us Idol contestants than Byrd was,” said Clay Aiken. “No one spent more time with us. I’ll never forget her drilling into us how we needed to look right into the camera and connect with the audience at home. She was a light in so many lives. I am so lucky that I got to call her a friend.”

Byrd collaborated with Bob Dylan in Australia on his tour, “Hard to Handle: Bob Dylan in Concert,” where he played with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Byrd worked with Dylan again on “Band of the Hand” with Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks. She also gave voice lessons to Dylan.

As an actor-performer, Byrd garnered acclaim for her starring role as Da Singer in the national touring company of Broadway’s Bring In ‘Da Noise, Bring In ‘Da Funk.

She was nominated for a 2001 Black Theatre Alliance Award for Could It Be Magic. Her theatrical credits on Broadway productions included The Human Comedy, Barry Manilow on Broadway, Haarlem Nocturne,” and her contributions to the Broadway and national tour renditions of Ain’t Misbehavin‘.”

Byrd also lent her vocal talents to film soundtracks, including The Lion King, 2 1/2, and Sister Act II.

Byrd was the vocal coach on American Idol from the first episode through Season 10.  She was then tapped to be a vocal coach on The Voice.

She sang in the choir of the performance of Mighty River at the 2018 Oscars and served as a vocal coach on the 2014 Oscars.

Additionally, Byrd was hired by NBC to oversee vocal production for their 2019 Super Bowl tribute to Prince, directed by Spike Lee.

In the academic world, Byrd was chair of the vocal department at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles. She also served as an artist in residence at the prestigious Berklee College of Music.​​

No information on survivors or memorial plans was immediately available.


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