Ralph MacDonald, Harlem Born

December 12, 2011

Ralph MacDonald (March 15, 1944 – December 18, 2011) was an American percussionist and song-writer. He joined Harry Belafonte’s band at age 17. He wrote the Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway song “Where is the Love” with songwriting partner William Salter.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Sl-MHhEJxI&w=420&h=315]

Probably his best-known composition is the Grover Washington, Jr. – Bill Withers hit “Just the Two of Us”, which has since been covered by many artists, including Will Smith.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEy6MGu3bIA&w=420&h=315]

His recording credits number in the hundreds and include 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, and Jimmy Buffett, whose Coral Reefer Band has featured MacDonald as member since the late 1990s.

He is 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.

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

Growing up in Harlem, U.S.A. under the close mentorship of his father, a calypsonian and bandleader from Trinidad and Tobago who used the stage name “Macbeth the Great”, Ralph began showing his musical talent, particularly with the steelpan, in his teens. When he was seventeen, he landed a job playing pan for the Harry Belafonte show. In music composition, he became best known for “Just the Two of Us”, the inspiration for which came to him after a glossy brochure in the showcase of a Trinidad and Tobago Tourist Board (the precursor to the Tourism Development Company) New York office caught his eye; on the cover was a picture of a girl on a warm sunny Tobago beach inviting the US tourist to come to the twin-isle tropical state to “discover the both of us”.

He remained with Belafonte for a decade then decide to strike out on his own. Together with Bill Eaton and William Salter, he formed the Antisia Music Incorporated. Within two years, the label had Roberta Flack under their belt -Ralph convinced Roberta to record “Where is The Love”, which he and William had earlier written. Roberta did the song with Donnie Hathaway. “Where is The Love” sold 10 million copies and generated two Grammies.

MacDonald was sought after by major acts, such as Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Miriam Makeba, David Bowie, Billy Joel and Paul Simon, just to name a few. Through it all, he never abandoned his roots, for he regularly made the pilgrimage back to the place that inspired Just The Two Of Us -his ancestral home, Trinidad and Tobago (Trinbago), land of the steelpan and hummingbird. Home, as Ralph called Trinbago, is where he renewed his creative genius by re-immersion in the steelpan crucible, particularly on the hills of Laventille, Trinidad with the world-famous Deperadoes Steel Band, with whom he played whenever he got the opportunity.

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