Remembered as the founder of the influential R&B group The Famous Flames, he was also responsible for discovering the acclaimed funk and soul vocalist James Brown. In 1998, Byrd was chosen by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation as the recipient of the prestigious Pioneer Award.
Early in his career, he performed with a church choral group known as the Zioneers. Later, he joined vocal ensembles called the Gospel Starlighters and the Avons.
In 2012, he became a posthumous inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
He and his sister, Sarah, spent their childhoods in Toccoa, Georgia. During his marriage to soul singer Vicki Anderson (which lasted from the early 1970s until his death in 2007), Byrd raised children named Keisha, Carleen, Bartlett, Anthony, and James.