Ralph MacDonald, the Grammy-winning writer, producer and percussionist, died Sunday morning in Stamford, Conn. He was 67 and in recent years had suffered from a stroke and battled lung cancer.
Born in Harlem on March 15, 1944, MacDonald’s father played in a local calypso band, which eventually influenced his style of percussion. But his father wasn’t his only influence-from the ages of 17 and 27, he played in Harry Belafonte’s band.
After leaving that gig, MacDonald became an in-demand studio musician and can be found on dozens of disco, soul, funk and R&B records. He also had a foot in jazz, where he worked with everyone from Ron Carter to David Sanborn and Grover Washington Jr.
MacDonald wrote and produced Washington’s 1980 classic “Just the Two of Us” off the latter’s “Winelight” album, which became a hit. He also co-wrote “Mister Magic,” the title track on Washington’s 1974 album, which also became a hit.
Through the Antisia Music publishing company, MacDonald pitched Roberta Flack a song he co-wrote with Bill Salter called “Where is the Love,” which eventually became a duet between her and the late Donny Hathaway and sold millions of copies.
As a result of his percussion expertise and work with the publishing company, MacDonald collaborated with the likes of Luther Vandross, Amy Winehouse, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, James Taylor and Billy Joel. His work on the song “Calypso Breakdown,” from the soundtrack to the film “Saturday Night Fever,” earned him Grammy awards as a performer and producer. MacDonald continued to tour well into this decade until health issues slowed him down.
MacDonald is survived by his wife, Grace, and four children: Nefra-Ann, Atiba, Anthony and Giovanni.