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Percussionist & Songwriter Ralph MacDonald Dies at 67

Prolific musician appeared on hundreds of albums, wrote major hit songs

Ralph MacDonald, the Grammy-winning percussionist and composer who wrote the hit R&B songs “Where Is the Love” and “Just the Two of Us,” died Dec. 18 in Stamford, Conn., after a lengthy battle with lung cancer and a stroke. He was 67.

MacDonald worked within the jazz, soul and funk genres and contributed to recordings by Luther Vandross, Amy Winehouse, Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Ashford & Simpson, the Bee Gees, David Bowie, the Brecker Brothers, Hall & Oates, Bob James, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, Steely Dan and many others. Until his deteriorating health curtailed his ability to travel, MacDonald continued to tour as a member of Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band.

Born in Harlem in 1944, MacDonald was the son of Trinidadian calypso musician MacBeth the Great. He started playing drums and percussion as a small boy. At age 17 he played pans and percussion in Harry Belafonte’s steel band; MacDonald stayed with Belafonte for 10 years, composing Belafonte’s Calypso Carnival album in 1966.

MacDonald became a prolific composer and his “Where Is The Love,” which he cowrote with William Salter, became a multi-million selling Grammy winner for Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. Grover Washington Jr. had a major hit with MacDonald’s “Just The Two of Us.”

MacDonald contribute congas, steel pans and other percussion to an estimated 400 albums, including titles by David Sanborn, the Brecker Brothers,Max Roach, Gato Barbieri, Ron Carter, Maynard Ferguson, George Benson, Milt Jackson, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the Crusaders, Joe Henderson and Paul Desmond. He also played on R&B, soul, funk and pop recordings by Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan, Washington, Bob James and many others. He also released eight solo albums beginning in 1976 with Sound of a Drum; the most recent was 2008’s Mixty Motions.

Originally Published