Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Lancaster, (William) Byard, "Thunderbird"
His ancestors were involved in a historic slave uprising on Sept. 13, 1743 (as described in the book by Paula Woods, "I Too Sing America"). His parents, both born in Gloucester, Va., were Wilbert C. and Minerva Ann Gregory Lancaster. His siblings are Bert Lancaster (b. 1928; three daughters, Lynne, Penny and Lori), a political consultant in Philadelphia; Oliver Lancaster, Ed.D., an education consultant in Maryland (with one daughter, Kristie Lancaster, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at N.Y.U.) and Mary Ann Lancaster Tyler, PhD in Ethnomusicology (b. in Phil., married with one son, Robert Lancaster Tyler), a former music teacher who has worked on projects with Byard. Bert and Oliver were born in West Chester, Pa., but by the time Mary Ann and Byard were born the family had moved to the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Mary Ann played piano before Byard did and got him interested in music by the age of four and a half. By five he was studying saxophone.
Lancaster attended Emlen Elementary School, Roosevelt Middle School, and Germantown High School (graduated 1960). By the age of 14 he was working with drummer J.R. Mitchell and bassist Jerome Hunter. During high school he studied at Germantown Settlement Music School from 1958, the first black student there. He then went to Shaw University in North Carolina (1960-61), Boston University (1961-62 school year), and Berklee (overlapping with BU, 1961-63), including studies in music education. He studied further in 1974 through Howard University's "University Without Walls" program, and has studied harmony privately with Odean Pope since 2000.
Over the years he has worked with Sun Ra, Larry Young, McCoy Tyner, Johnny Clyde Copeland, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Bill Dixon, Philly Joe Jones, Don Moye, Trudy Pitts and many others, throughout Europe and the United States. He taught in Kingston, Jamaica (ca. 1983-5) and has also taught for years in Philadelphia as well as teaching guest workshops at Berklee, Harvard, and other universities and schools. A regular street performer since 1978, he attracted media attention and public support when he was arrested on November 7, 2000, and charged with disorderly conduct. The charge was subsequently dismissed.
His children are Peter (who was given for adoption by his maternal grandfather), Brian and Cash (children of Diane in Phil.), Raquel (child of Carla in Allentown, Pa.), Marianne and Alicia (children of Maureen in Mass.), and Faythallegra (child of Lillian in NYC).
He continues to focus on mentoring jazz students; he was the first band leader of Stanley Clark, and the first road manager for Robin and Kevin Eubanks (all three of them at age 14), and the mentor for reed artist Jaleel Shaw. His prime student in 2004 was Jordan Thomas (age 13), a harpist and pianist.
Leader: It's Not Up to Us (1966); God Be In Us (2005, with Mary Ann Lancaster Tyler); and seven other CDs
James Baldwin (reading) et al: A Lover's Question (1986, 87 and 89)
Also recordings with: Bill Laswell, Odean Pope, Larry Young, Funkadesie, Sunny Murray, Sonny Sharrock, Karl Berger, Khan Jamal, Ronald Shannon Jackson, David Eyges, Funkadesi, Juju-Nation Arkestra
Byard Jazz (2005) dvd/cd
Kai Gregory, Sounding a Blue Note,Philadelphia Weekly, 18 Dec. 2002
Charing A. Ball, Byard Lancaster: Jazz Great Campaigns for the Rights of Street Musicians, Germantown Courier, 20 Nov. 2002
Books by Lancaster:
Horn Works: Music Discipline (1992)
Brain Work: Sex Action (1995)
Youth Work: Political Awareness (1999)
Blood Work: Soul Unity (2005)
Prefers contact by fax: 215 842 1340