Ralph MacDonald
Ralph MacDonald.jpg
Background information
Birth nameRalph Anthony MacDonald
Born(1944-03-15)March 15, 1944
Harlem, New York, U.S.
DiedDecember 18, 2011(2011-12-18) (aged 67)
Stamford, Connecticut, U.S.
Occupation(s)Composer, arranger, pannist
Instrument(s)Steelpan, Percussion, Keyboards

Ralph Anthony MacDonald (March 15, 1944 – December 18, 2011)[1] was a Trinbagonian-American percussionist, songwriter, 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.


MacDonald's 1984 single "(It's) the Game" appeared on his album Universal Rhythm.
MacDonald's 1984 single "(It's) the Game" appeared on his album Universal Rhythm.

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 used 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.[2]

He remained with the Belafonte band for a decade before deciding to strike out on his own.[2] 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.[3] MacDonald played on the session for the song.[4]

One of MacDonald's best-known co-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.

On December 18, 2011, MacDonald died of lung cancer. His wife, Grace, and four children Jovonni, Anthony, Atiba and Nefra-Ann survive him.[1][5]


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

As sideman

With Bob James

With Bob James and Earl Klugh

With Patti Austin

With George Benson

With Kenny Burrell and Grover Washington Jr.

With Grover Washington Jr.

With Ron Carter

With Paul Desmond

With Milt Jackson

With Hubert Laws

With David Sanborn

With O'Donel Levy

With Junior Mance

With Arif Mardin

With David "Fathead" Newman

With Bernard Purdie

With Max Roach

With Don Sebesky

With Shirley Scott

With Gábor Szabó


  1. ^ a b Vitello, Paul (20 December 2011). "Ralph MacDonald, Pop Percussionist, Dies at 67". The New York Times. p. B11.
  2. ^ a b Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 1559. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  3. ^ "Ralph MacDonald". Soulwalking.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-06-30.
  4. ^ Ed Hogan. "Where Is the Love? - Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway | Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-06-30.
  5. ^ "WITCO Desperadoes Mourns the Passing of Ralph MacDonald". Desperadoes Steel Orchestra. Retrieved 25 November 2014.