Debra Byrd dies at 72: ‘Heartbroken’ Jennifer Hudson leads tributes to beloved American Idol vocal coach who helped her launch career along with Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • Byrd was also seen on Canadian Idol, Military Idol and Majors and Minors 
  • Hudson, Barry Manilow and Clay Aiken among those to pay memorial 
  • Byrd’s cause of death was not announced 

Debra Byrd, a singer and music professional who was featured as a vocal coach on TV shows such as American Idol and The Voice, died Tuesday in Los Angeles at the age of 72.

Byrd was also featured on programs including Canadian Idol, Military Idol, Majors and Minors in her television career.

Byrd’s cause of death was not announced, according to Deadline.

She had worked with a number of top names over generations in the music business, including Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia, as well as Bob Dylan and Barry Manilow.

Hudson, 42, and Manilow, 80, were among Byrd’s peers to chime in with condolences on Wednesday as news of her death spread.

Debra Byrd, a singer and music professional who was featured as a vocal coach on TV shows such as American Idol and The Voice , died Tuesday in Los Angeles at the age of 72. Pictured in 2011 in LA 

Byrd had worked with a number of top names over generations in the music business, including Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia, as well as Bob Dylan and Barry Manilow

Byrd had worked with a number of top names over generations in the music business, including Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia, as well as Bob Dylan and Barry Manilow 

‘Heartbroken over the passing of Debra Byrd, the vocal coach on American Idol,’ Hudson said on Twitter/X. ‘She encouraged and supported us from the very beginning!

‘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.’

She wrapped up in writing, ‘Rest in peace, Debra.’

Manilow said: ‘This is one of the saddest days of my life. I just can’t wrap my mind around the fact that Debra is no longer with me.’

He continued: ‘She was one of the most wonderful friends I’ve ever had. I will miss you forever, my love.’

American Idol alum Clay Aiken, 45, praised Byrd’s skills as a leader of young singers in a statement.

‘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,’ Aiken said, according to the outlet. ‘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, who was also featured on programs including Canadian Idol, Military Idol, Majors and Minors in her television career, was pictured in LA in April 2011

Byrd, who was also featured on programs including Canadian Idol, Military Idol, Majors and Minors in her television career, was pictured in LA in April 2011

Byrd was pictured with Simon Crowell in 2003 in LA at an American Idol event

Byrd was pictured with Simon Crowell in 2003 in LA at an American Idol event 

Byrd was seen at an International Women's Day event in LA in March of 2022

Byrd was seen at an International Women’s Day event in LA in March of 2022  

Jennifer Hudson said she was 'heartbroken' over Byrd's death and said 'her legacy lives on'

Jennifer Hudson said she was ‘heartbroken’ over Byrd’s death and said ‘her legacy lives on’

Manilow described Byrd as 'one of the most wonderful friends I’ve ever had'

Manilow described Byrd as ‘one of the most wonderful friends I’ve ever had’

Byrd, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, got her start studying at Kent State University, and honing her craft at the Karamu and Dobama Theaters, according to the outlet.

She was a member of Manilow’s backup group Ladyflash, who had a top 30 single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1976 with the song Street Singin,’ which Manilow penned and arranged.

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