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Session and sideman percussionist Ralph MacDonald dead at 67

By David Hinckley, New York Daily News – Sunday, 18 December 2011

Ralph MacDonaldRalph MacDonald, the Grammy-winning writer, producer and percussionist who worked with everyone from Luther Vandross to Amy Winehouse and composed the classics, “Where Is the Love” and “Just the Two of Us,” died Sunday morning in Stamford, Conn., after a long illness. He was 67.

He had suffered from a stroke and lung cancer in recent years.

Stamford, where he lived for the past 35 years, honored him with a Ralph MacDonald Day in July. He performed a couple of songs, including “Just the Two of Us,” with long-time colleague Dennis Collins, at the event.

Born in Harlem on March 15, 1944, MacDonald was a working musician as well as a writer and producer. Until health problems sidelined him a year and a half ago, he continued to tour regularly as a member of Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band.

The son of legendary Trinidadian calypso performer MacBeth the Great, MacDonald began performing as a small boy when his father would have him dance on the drums.

At 17, he landed a job in Harry Belafonte’s steel band, where he remained for the next decade. After telling Belafonte that the singer needed more authentic calypso music, he wrote an album of songs that Belafonte recorded as “Calypso Carnival” in 1966.

Soon afterwards, MacDonald launched his own publishing company, Antisia Music, with his friends Bill Salter and William Eaton.

They gave the company two years to establish itself, and MacDonald later recalled that the time had almost expired when he started working with Roberta Flack. He pitched her a song he had written with Salter, “Where Is The Love,” and her recording with Donny Hathaway became a multi-million-seller.

Through Antisia and as an acclaimed percussionist, MacDonald worked with a who’s who of artists, including Amy Winehouse, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, Bette Midler, Diana Ross and Grover Washington Jr., for whom he wrote the hit “Mr. Magic.”

MacDonald won Grammy awards as a performer and producer for “Calypso Breakdown,” which appeared on the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack.

“Just the Two Of Us” was first released on Washington’s 1980 album “Winelight,” which MacDonald wrote and produced.

He also released several albums of his own over the years.

He is survived by his wife, Grace, and four children, Nefra-Ann, Atiba, Anthony and Giovanni.

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