Internationally acclaimed percussionist and songwriter Ralph MacDonald has been one of the most significant contributors to the Jazz and Pop music explosion of our time. As a songwriter and producer, Ralph is truly a musical phenomenon having been responsible for many mega hits including "Where Is The Love" performed by Roberta Flack and the late Donny Hathaway, "Just The Two Of Us" by Bill Withers and "Mr. Magic" by Grover Washington, Jr. who passed away less than a year ago. As a percussionist, he is perhaps the greatest in his field.
Born to Trinidadian parents, Ralph is the product of a musical environment. His father Patrick MacDonald, known in the entertainment circles as MacBeth the Great migrated from Trinidad to the USA. The elder MacDonald performed with his band regularly in New York during the 40's and 50's. His youngest brother Urias was also part of that illustrious band which, on many occasions found it necessary to split into two groups in order to fulfill engagements which were scheduled on the same night.
Young Ralph often tagged along to these performances. His uncle Urias or "Uncle Bougs" as he was commonly referred to, was an accomplished percussionist and it was he who introduced Ralph to the percussions by giving him his first conga drum. Indeed Uncle Bougs was a key source of inspiration to Ralph. According to Ralph, "when we were growing up there were always more drums than food around the house". "Uncle Bougs" also performed on several of Ralph's albums.
Ralph was barely thirteen when his father passed away and thereafter his relationship with Uncle Bougs grew even stronger. At age seventeen Ralph joined forces with Harry Belafonte performing alongside the likes of Miriam Makeba. He amazed the music world with his scintillating percussion skills and thus began a career, which spanned over four decades and continues to this day.
In 1969, Ralph left Belafonte and teamed up with William Eaton and William Salter. It did not take long for the music industry to realize his extraordinary talents. After winning a Grammy in 1971 with "Where Is The Love", Ralph became one of the most sought after musical minds on the planet. He has indeed become one of the premier exponents of this constantly changing musical art form and was in the forefront of New York's Jazz/Fusion in the 70's and 80's. At Rosebud, his recording studio in New York, Ralph produced countless albums including Wine Light - Grover Washington Jr. and Rendezvous - Sadao Watanabe. Rosebud was the conduit for journalists to meet and mingle with virtually any musician of note.
The list of artists for whom Ralph has written or on whose albums he has performed is certainly an impressive one. George Benson, James Taylor, Michael Jackson, Eric Gayle, Bob James, Billy Joel, Quincy Jones, The Bee Gees, Diana Ross, Jimmy Buffet, Kenny Loggins, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Richard Tee, Phoebe Snow, David Sandborn, Art Garfunkel and Bette Midler in addition to the previously mentioned Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, Bill Withers and Grover Washington, Jr., are but just a few of the many artists whose music have been influenced in one way or another by Ralph.
Ralph visited Trinidad and Tobago for the first time in 1979 and has since become an integral part of the country's musical landscape. His leadership and work with local calypsonians on the album "Calypso For Africa" is well documented and he continues to work with several local artists. The song "Calypso Breakdown" from one of his most successful albums, "Sound of A Drum" has a strong Trinidad and Tobago influence and indeed all of his albums include steel pan performances by Robert Greenidge.