Ralph McDonald

Ralph Anthony MacDonald (March 15, 1944 – December 18, 2011) was a Trinbagonian-American percussionist, song-writer, musical arranger, record producer, steelpan virtuoso and philanthropist.

His compositions include "Where Is the Love", a Grammy Award winner for the duet of Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway; "Just the Two of Us", recorded by Bill Withers and Grover Washington, Jr.; and "Mister Magic" recorded by Grover Washington, Jr.



Growing up in Harlem, New York, United States, under the close mentorship of his Trinbagonian father, Patrick MacDonald (a calypsonian and bandleader originally from Trinidad and Tobago who went by the stage name "Macbeth the Great"), MacDonald began showing his musical talent, particularly with the steelpan, and when he was 17 years old started playing pan for the Harry Belafonte show.

He remained with the Belafonte band for a decade before deciding to strike out on his own. In 1967, together with Bill Eaton and William Salter, he formed Antisia Music Incorporated. Antisia is based in Stamford, Connecticut.

In 1971, Roberta Flack recorded "Where Is the Love", which MacDonald and Salter had written. The duet with Donny Hathaway won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. The single was awarded gold status and sold more than one million copies. MacDonald played on the session for the song.

One of MacDonald's best-known compositions is "Just the Two of Us", a single sung by Bill Withers, with saxophone performance by Grover Washington, Jr. It reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100, and has since been covered and sampled by many artists, including Will Smith.

Later life

MacDonald regularly travelled back to Trinidad and Tobago, where he renewed his work in the steelpan, particularly on the hills of Laventille, Trinidad with the multiple Steelband Panorama champions Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, whose shows he attended and with whom he played whenever he got the opportunity, "beating iron" in "The Engine Room" (as a steelband's rhythm section is often called). Calypso and the steelpan were Ralph MacDonald's roots. He recorded a song called "You Need More Calypso",written by William,Eaton to articulate how he felt the music world could more benefit by the genre his homeland had given to the world.

At 12:50 AM on Sunday, December 18, 2011, MacDonald died of lung cancer. His wife, Grace, son Atiba and their daughter, Nefra-Ann survive him.


His recording credits number in the hundreds and include Burt Bacharach, George Benson, David Bowie, Aretha Franklin, Art Garfunkel, Billy Joel, Quincy Jones, Carole King, Miriam Makeba, David Sanborn, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, James Taylor, Luther Vandross, Amy Winehouse, Bob James, Ashford and Simpson, Nana Mouskouri, The Average White Band, Hall & Oates, The Brothers Johnson, and spent years as a charter member of Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band.

He is also featured on percussion on George Benson's 1976 album, Breezin'; on percussion on Carole King's 1975 album, Thoroughbred, and on Looking Glass's 1973 album Subway Serenade.

His song "Jam on the Groove" was featured on the breakbeat compilation Ultimate Breaks and Beats. His "Calypso Breakdown" is on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. He provided the percussion to "Mister Magic" recorded by saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr..

MacDonald also appears on Amy Lee's CD Use Me.

As leader

  • Sound of a Drum (Marlin, 1976)
  • The Path (Marlin, 1978)
  • Counterpoint (Marlin, 1979)
  • Universal Rhythm (Polydor, 1984)
  • Surprize (Polydor, 1985)
  • Port Pleasure (1998)
  • Trippin' (2000)
  • Home Grown (2003)
  • Just the Two of Us (2004)
  • Mixty Motions (2008)

As sideman

With Patti Austin

  • End of a Rainbow (CTI, 1976)
  • Havana Candy (CTI, 1977)

With George Benson

  • Weekend in L.A. (Warner Bros., 1978)

With Ron Carter

  • Blues Farm (CTI, 1973)
  • Spanish Blue (CTI, 1974)
  • Anything Goes (Kudu, 1975)
  • A Song for You (Milestone, 1978)
  • Pick 'Em (Milestone, 1978 [1980])
  • New York Slick (Milestone, 1979)
  • Empire Jazz (RSO, 1980)

With Paul Desmond

  • Skylark (CTI, 1973)

With Milt Jackson

  • Sunflower (CTI, 1972)

With Hubert Laws

  • Morning Star (CTI, 1972)
  • The Chicago Theme (CTI, 1974)

With Junior Mance

  • That Lovin' Feelin' (Milestone, 1972)

With Arif Mardin

  • Journey (Atlantic, 1974)

With Bernard Purdie

  • Soul Is... Pretty Purdie (Flying Dutchman, 1972)

With Max Roach

  • Lift Every Voice and Sing (Atlantic, 1971)

With Don Sebesky

  • Giant Box (CTI, 1973)

With Shirley Scott

  • Something (Atlantic, 1970)

With Gábor Szabó

  • Mizrab (CTI, 1972)
  • Macho (Salvation, 1975)

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