Debra Byrd

Tuesday / February 1, 2011 / 12:00 p.m.
Red Room at Cafe 939
939 Boylston Street
United States

Debra Byrd's resume is beyond impressive. She's sung duets with some of the world's best-known artists, recorded numerous movie soundtracks and commercials, had roles in five Broadway shows, and conducted nationwide seminars. It's no wonder "Byrd" is in such high demand.

Byrd has been the vocal coach and arranger for American Idol and its North American tours since its inception, bringing her knowledge of musical expression and performance to groups of eager singers. With a natural gift for vocal artistry, Byrd not only helps the "future Idols" perform and arrange their music selections, she is a mentor and in many ways the heart of the franchise.

She believes that one of the keys to vocal success is keeping the essence of what the songs represent by capturing what makes them special. "To be an Idol, you have to have more than a good voice," Byrd says. "You need to have presence, a connection with the songs and understand what you're presenting."

Byrd was born in Cleveland to a musical family. She studied piano at an early age and studied opera for eight years beginning at age 12. As a teenager she cofounded and sang in church choirs, performed in a band, and narrated children's concerts for the Cleveland Orchestra. At the world-renowned Karamu Theater, she received training in acting and improv while serving as musical director there as well as at the East Cleveland and Dobama theaters.

Along with Idol, Byrd has been the vocal supervisor for Ain't Misbehavin' starring Ruben Studdard (national tour) and vocal coach for the Holland America cruise line and All My Children, among others.

Her longtime association with Barry Manilow includes performing as his opening act, providing backup vocals for many of his performances, and creating the vocal arrangements for many of his shows. She has sung duets with Bob Dylan, and performed or recorded with the Eurythmics, UB40, Lyle Lovett, Roberta Flack, and Bob Geldof.

As an actor, Byrd received outstanding reviews for her role as 'da Singer in the national touring company of Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk. Byrd was also featured on Broadway in The Human Comedy, Haarlem Nocturne, and both the national tour and Broadway productions of Ain't Misbehavin'. In 2001, Byrd was nominated for a Black Theater Alliance Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

Byrd has developed an online vocal course, an instructional DVD, and an electronic pitch pipe. In the works is a line of herbal products to protect, soothe, and enhance the voice.