Multi-Faceted Music Master Kevin Toney Passes From Cancer at 70

Multi-Faceted Music Master KEVIN TONEY Passes From Cancer at 70

Detroit-born prodigy was Leader of `70s Soul-Jazz hitmakers The Blackbyrds founded at HBCU Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Under the Mentorship of Donald Byrd

Toney’s Solo Endeavors in Los Angeles Stretched from Albums,
Musical Theater and Production to Education and Authoring
Faith-Based Relationship Books

The legacy of pianist/composer/bandleader/educator Kevin Toney stands as among the finest of the artform – not only as a player and performer, but as a human being who strived throughout his lifetime to excel so-as-to be of service.

Kevin’s career achievements include two Grammy® nominations, three RIAA gold records (with band The Blackbyrds), NAACP Image Award, National Endowment For the Arts Fellowship Grant, honorary membership into Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, keys to the city in Detroit, New Orleans and Los Angeles, and a Fellowship Grant for Jazz Composition and Performance from National Endowment For The Arts. Songs from his Strut CD were selected by the 2002 Winter Olympics Committee as “Official Music.”

Born April 23, 1953, to father Solomon Toney and mother Alice Capehart, Kevin Kraig Toney started playing piano at five in his city of birth, Detroit, Michigan. His first teacher was his sister, Hefen. At eight, he added cello and alto saxophone. He attended the esteemed Interlochen Music Academy on scholarship followed by the prestigious Cass Technical High School where he was instrumental in implementing a Jazz Studies program. All the while, he performed with enviable schoolmates and friends ranging from future Jazz pianist Geri Allen to R&B/Pop star Ray Parker, Jr. Kevin delved into music theory at HBCU Howard University in Washington, D.C. where he earned his B.A. in composition and jazz studies. During his tenure, he became the leader of the The Blackbyrds, the Jazz-Soul fusion ensemble founded by jazz trumpet legend Donald Byrd. The sextet initially toured as backup for Byrd, documented on Live: Cookin’ with Blue Note at Montreux (recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, July 5, 1973).

Once the band spun-off into its own entity, Kevin wrote or co-penned many of the its most memorable songs, including the hit “Rock Creek Park,” the anthemic funk of “Future Children, Future Hopes,” the sensual “Dreaming About You,” the melancholy harmonica-led instrumental “All I Ask,” plus the Funk-Jazz Fusion jams “Supernatural Feeling,” “Spaced Out,” “In Life” and the Grammy®-nominated “Unfinished Business.” Their six now-classic `70s Soul-Jazz albums recorded for Fantasy Records are The Blackbyrds (1973), Flying Start (1974 – featuring the Grammy®-nominated pop crossover smash “Walking in Rhythm”), City Life (1975), the soundtrack for the film “Cornbread, Earl, and Me (1975), Unfinished Business (1976) and Action (1977). Toney’s touch and flourishes on piano, Fender Rhodes, Arp synthesizers, organ, clavinet, and melodica were equally electrifying and dynamically romantic – intuitive fruits of clear classical studies, jazz appreciation and raw Detroit-street sense. After their final album, Better Days (1980 – produced by George Duke), The Blackbyrds disbanded. Kevin then recorded his first solo LP, Special K in 1982 (co-produced with Jazz veteran Orrin Keepnews).

Following a decade plus of working as musical director/conductor for shows such as “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Five Guys Named Moe,” plus co-composing hits for others such as “Call It What You Want” for Bill Summers and Summers Heat, Kevin commanded revived solo respect with his 1994 release Lovescape, featuring his composition “Kings,” a staple of then-burgeoning ‘smooth jazz.’ Kevin’s ‘urban jazz’ sound evolved over six more meticulously crafted CDs: Pastel Mood (Ichiban – 1995), followed by Shanachie Records’ Extra Sensual Perception (1999), Satin Doll (2000), Strut (2001), Sweet Spot (2003) and 110° and Rising (2005) that found him experimenting in nearly every contemporary music palette.

Kevin also graced stages and studios with a most dynamic array of artists across genres, including Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Nancy Wilson, Isaac Hayes, Shirley Caesar, Sonny Rollins, Oscar Brown, Jr., Whitney Houston, Hubert Laws, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr., Kenny Burrell, Shania Twain, Frank Sinatra, Brenda Russell, Marlena Shaw, Phil Upchurch, Carl Anderson, Alphonse Mouzon, Seal, Pink, and Enrique Iglesias. Kevin also scored two films: the period drama “Kings of the Evening” and the documentary “The Kinsey Collection” – about his friends Bernard and Shirley Kinsey who assembled the largest collection of African and African American artifacts in the United States.

As an author, Kevin’s musical education books include The Kevin Toney Collection, Volume I and Heart of Gratitude: Piano Solos. However, Kevin’s most profound writings were books on how to be an honorable man, husband, and father: “The Virtuous Man, Breaking The Men’s Code” and “Super Glue Your Love Relationship,” scored to the solo piano soundtrack, A Grateful Heart.

Kevin was especially proud of the music, movie, television, commercials and print modeling endeavors of daughter, Dominique Toney. He featured her prominently in his revised Blackbyrds plus his own albums and concerts, plus produced her 2014 debut album, A Love Like Ours.

Kevin’s final two music projects (co-produced with longtime friend and business associate Don Mizell) were the KT-3 jazz trio with orchestra piece, New American Suite, and An Evening with Kevin Toney and Friends – Jazz Legacy, a souvenir of his lifetime dream concert, recorded live at the North Coast Repertory Theater in San Diego. The latter album indisputably placed Toney within a setting and repertoire that solidified his direct connection and lifelong dedication to Jazz. Both albums were released through his family company, K-Tone Enterprises.

Near the end of his life – after beating cancer once only for it to return – Kevin overstood that his musical gifts were not his sole purpose, Ultimately, Kevin was uniquely anointed to bring people closer to God.

Kevin’s wife, renowned costume designer Phyllis Toney, shares, “Dominique and I have come to find out just how many lives he changed through the people he mentored, young and old – guiding them through their various struggles back into The Light. Since he passed, the love and appreciation for Kevin revealed to us from so many – people we never knew – is overwhelming. From giving people their first musical gigs to his guidance as a life mentor and spiritual teacher.”

Above all, Kevin knew and believed his greatest accomplishment was his family.

Kevin Toney is survived by his wife Phyllis Toney, daughter Dominique Toney, son Jason Toney, daughter in law Tiffany Brown-Toney. sisters Wynnie Maloy and Hefen Sa-Akhi, and brothers Mickey Maloy and Derrick Toney.

A celebration of life concert in Los Angeles for Kevin will be announced shortly.

Inque Public Relations

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