Clarence McDonald

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Clarence "Mac" McDonald is a Los Angeles based pianist, composer, arranger, and producer. McDonald is known for his musical diversity, enduring melodies and signature groove.[1] His most famous composition is Silly sung by Deniece Williams in 1981 and Taral Hicks in 1997. In 2010 the song instrumental intro and bridge were sampled in Monica's seven weeklong Billboard #1 RB Grammy nominated song "Everything To Me".[2] He has worked with a long list of entertainment icons including Ray Charles, Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, Justin Timberlake, Aretha Franklin, James Taylor, Carole King, Taral Hicks, Freddy Hubbard, Nancy Wilson, Boz Scaggs, Seals & Crofts, Bill Withers, and The Jackson 5.

Most recently[when?] McDonald performed on the all-star benefit album entitled Jazz For Japan (Avatar Records).


Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Clarence McDonald started playing music at a very young age. McDonald’s first instrument was the soprano saxophone followed by the trombone, euphonium, sousaphone and piano. He chose the piano as his primary instrument because he found it to be the most challenging.

By the age of 16 McDonald was playing at the local nightclub, Memory Lane, accompanying American jazz & gospel singer Lorez Alexandria. On the weekends, he was working with the Chico Hamilton Quartet through an invitation from the Musical Director and saxophonist Charles Lloyd. McDonald understood the guitar voicing’s required for the quartet and was able to play them on the piano.

In the early 1960s McDonald began working with the Los Angeles based vocal group, The Hi-Fi’s. He replaced Rex Middleton as the Musical Director. They changed their name to The Vocals and began working with American soul singer Lonnie Sattin. While touring, they were contacted to be the opening act for Ray Charles and traveled with Charles in 1964-65. The group later changed their name to The Fifth Dimension replacing some of the personnel.

In 1966 McDonald was drafted into the United States Army and sent to Vietnam. McDonald received an Honorable Discharge and was awarded a National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, and Vietnam Campaign Medal.

McDonald returned to the music business contributing to thousands of songs as session player. Some of his first sessions were for Motown (Los Angeles) recording with Diana Ross, Gladys Knight & The Pips and The Jackson Five.

Notable music projects[edit]

In 1975, while working with Carole King, McDonald met James Taylor. That meeting followed with an invitation from Warner Brothers Producers Lenny Waronker and Russ Titleman who asked McDonald to record on Taylor’s album, Gorilla. McDonald ended up recording on three albums: Gorilla (1975), In the Pocket (1976) and JT (1977). McDonald toured with Taylor from 1975 to 1978.

McDonald’s produced The Emotions Platinum Album Rejoice with Maurice White. On the album was the No. 1 Hot 100 and R&B song, "The Best of My Love". The song won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals and an American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Single.[3]

In 2004, McDonald recorded keyboards with Ray Charles[4] on the song "Heaven Help Us All" for the Grammy Winning Best Gospel Song duet with Gladys Knight. McDonald arranged the song with David Blumberg and Randy Waldman. The song appears on Ray Charles’ last album, Genius Loves Company.

In 2007, Erykah Badu released "Honey", a song created with "I’m In Love" originally recorded by Nancy Wilson (Music on My Mind), produced by McDonald and co-written by McDonald, Fritz Baskett and David Shields. In 2008 the song was part of Badu’s CD New Amerykah Vol. 1. The lead single, "Honey" reached No. 22 on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop Charts.[5]

In 2008, McDonald filmed and recorded a multi-media performance at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, California. McDonald documents stories of Los Angeles’ rich recording history with music classics he’s associated with: "Sarah Smile"/ Hall & Oates (recorded at Larrabee Studios), "Summer Breeze"/Seals & Crofts (recorded at The Sound Factory), "Best Of My Love" / The Emotions (recorded at Hollywood Sound Recorders) and "How Sweet It Is (to be loved by you)"/ James Taylor (recorded at Warner Brothers Recording Studios).

In 2010, McDonald was co-writer and co-publisher of the No. 1 Billboard single "Everything To Me" recorded by Monica (singer) for her 2010 album Still Standing. The song remained at No. 1 on the R&B/Hip Hop Charts for seven consecutive weeks.

In 2011, in response to Japan’s natural disaster, McDonald recorded 3 songs for the Jazz for Japan music project. All proceeds from the recording project go directly to Japanese relief funds. McDonald was joined by a long list of Jazz luminaries including George Duke, Nathan East, Herman Jackson, Boney James, Ndugu Chancler, Billy Childs, Christian McBride, Marcus Miller, David T. Walker and others.[6]


  1. ^ "Clarence McDonald". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-05-17. 
  2. ^ "Nominees And Winners". Retrieved 2011-05-17. 
  3. ^ "Best of My Love: The Best of the Emotions - The Emotions". 1996-03-30. Retrieved 2011-05-17. 
  4. ^ "The Legacy of The Genius". 2010-02-03. Retrieved 2011-05-17. 
  5. ^ "Top Hip-Hop and R&B Songs & Singles Charts". 2011-05-14. Retrieved 2011-05-18. 
  6. ^ "Clarence McDonald". 1968-01-07. Retrieved 2011-05-17. 

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