Ralph MacDonald, a highly regarded session musician and songwriter who co-wrote hits including “Where Is the Love?” and “Just the Two of Us,” died on Sunday of lung cancer in Stamford, Connecticut. He was 67.
Born in New York City to a musical father from Trinidad, MacDonald learned to play steelpan percussion at an early age and performed with Harry Belafonte’s band for a decade before striking out on his own. MacDonald’s distinctive Afro-Caribbean percussion flavored dozens of popular songs, including David Bowie‘s “Young Americans” and Jimmy Buffett‘s “Margaritaville.” Over the years, MacDonald worked with a wide range of artists, from Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon and Aretha Franklin to Luther Vandross and Amy Winehouse.
MacDonald earned two Grammy Awards in 1978 as a producer and performer on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, for which he contributed the track “Calypso Breakdown.” “My approach is to work with melody by simply enhancing it,” MacDonald told The New York Times in 1977, when the newspaper called him “the ghost behind the million-selling albums.”