Jennifer Hudson Mourns ‘American Idol’ Voice Coach Debra Byrd in Emotional Tribute

Jennifer Hudson Mourns ‘American Idol’ Voice Coach Debra Byrd in Emotional Tribute

Jennifer Hudson is mourning the death of American Idol voice coach Debra Byrd. Byrd, who also worked with Idol winners Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia, among many others, died on Tuesday, March 5 in Los Angeles at the age of 72, Deadline reported. A cause of death was not disclosed.

“Heartbroken over the passing of Debra Byrd, the vocal coach on American Idol,” Hudson wrote on Instagram alongside a gallery of images and videos of Byrd. “I am so grateful for everything she taught us. She will be dearly missed, but her legacy lives on through the music of countless artists she influenced during her lifetime. Rest in peace, Debra.”

Born in Cleveland, Ohio and having attended Kent State University before studying at the Karamu and Dobama Theaters, Byrd had a storied career that saw her work with numerous big-name stars. Along with serving as voice coach on shows like Canadian Idol, Military Idol, The Voice, and Majors and Minors, among many others, she also worked as a voice coach across 10 seasons of American Idol. She coached Hudson during Season 3 of the hit show in 2004.

In her tribute, Hudson shared a throwback video from their time together on Idol. In the clip, Byrd advised the aspiring singer that she “had to get rid of the gospel jaw,” adding, “Your homework is to stand in that mirror, I want you to physically hold your jaw.” After Hudson went on to win her season, Byrd went on to recommend Hudson for the role of Effie White in the 2006 film Dreamgirls, per U.K. newspaper The Independent.

Along with Hudson, Clarkson, and Fantasia, Byrd also coached Clay Aiken, who finished second on American Idol in 2003. Aiken joined the round of celebrities and Byrd’s students to pay tribute to the legendary voice coach, writing that “no one spent more time with” contestants on the show. He added, “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,” sharing that he will “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.”

Throughout her career, Byrd also worked with Barry Manilow and toured around the world as part of Lady Flash — also releasing their joint hit Street Singin’ in 1976. She gave voice lessons to Bob Dylan and provided her voice for the soundtracks to films The Lion King, 2 1/2 and Sister Act II: Back in the Habit. She was in the choir of the performance of Mighty River at the 2018 Oscars and served as a vocal coach at the 2014 Oscars. She was hired by NBC to oversee vocal production for its 2019 Super Bowl tribute to Prince, and was nominated for a 2001 Black Theatre Alliance Award for Could It Be Magic.


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