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Calypso and Calypsonians in North America, 1934-1961

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Posts Tagged ‘harry belafonte’

Ralph MacDonald, 1944-2011

Posted by Michael Eldridge on December 18, 2011

Ralph MacDonald (

Ralph MacDonald (

I learned this morning from the “Limers” discussion group that percussionist, composer, and arranger Ralph MacDonald had passed–too soon–at age 67.  MacDonald may be best known to the wider world as the co-writer of two R&B classics, the Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway duet “Where Is The Love” and Grover Washington, Jr.’s “Just the Two of Us,” with vocals by Bill Withers.  Denizens of the dancefloor and citizens of the hip-hop nation, meanwhile, will remember him for the old-school breakbeat sample from “Jam on the Groove” and for Saturday Night Fever’s Calypso Breakdown.”

Calypso Carnival

Calypso Carnival (RCA, 1971)

MacDonald didn’t come by his “calypso” credentials casually.  The son of Trini-born, New York-based calypsonian MacBeth the Great (Patrick MacDonald), he was an accomplished pannist who at age 17 started a decade-long stint as Harry Belafonte’s arranger and music director, eventually writing much of the latter’s Calypso Carnival album.  With pan master Robert Greenidge, he also brought a touch of authenticity to Jimmy Buffett’s “Coral Reefer” band.  (Greenidge, MacDonald, and fellow Reefers also performed and recorded independently as “Club Trini,” while MacDonald himself released eleven albums as a leader.)

“Extensive” doesn’t do justice to MacDonald’s list of sideman credits.  As the New York Times noted, he was “the ghost” behind dozens of 1970s radio hits.  His percussion flavors albums by everyone from jazz lions like Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Joe Henderson, and Ron Carter; pop stars Bette Midler, Don McLean, and Paul Simon; and R&B icons Aretha Franklin, Teddy Pendergrass, and Ashford & Simpson.  (As for his calypso bona fides: he also answered calls from David Rudder and the Mighty Sparrow.)

More recent collaborators include the late Amy Winehouse; “When Steel Talks” caught a 2008 appearance with the Caribbean All Stars on video (HQ version here).  But my favorite recent performance of MacDonald’s is on Kaiso, the splendid album that Trinidadian trumpeter Etienne Charles released earlier this year.  He’s featured prominently on this sweet, soaring cover of Kitch’s “Sugar Bum Bum”:

Now he’s beating percussion with the ancestors.  Rest in peace, Ralph MacDonald.


Posted in MacBeth the Great, Ralph MacDonald | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Edmundo & Harry

Posted by Michael Eldridge on October 22, 2011

Edmundo Ros, the Trini-born Latin bandleader who introduced Britons to calypso in the early 1940s and entertained them for over half a century (and whose centenary this blog marked last year) has died just shy of his 101st birthday.  Here is his obituary from the Guardian (UK).

Harry Belafonte

Source: Knopf/Doubleday

Meanwhile, closer to home: octogenarian Harry Belafonte is still alive and kicking — though occasionally somnolent.  During a publicity blitz in connection with his new memoir, My Song (and HBO documentary “Sing Your Song“), Belafonte apparently dozed off while waiting for an early-morning satellite interview with a southern California Fox affiliate, earning him a viral internet video and mean-spirited sniggers from anonymous Dittoheads everywhere.  His publicist chalked up the incident to fatigue and a faulty earpiece, claiming that Belafonte was taking advantage of a quiet moment to “meditate.”  Some of us prefer to think he was merely signalling his opinion of Fox News.

Check out this all-too-brief interview with Belafonte in New York magazine by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, a terrific young scholar & writer. (Let’s see the long version, Josh!)  And (go figure) Garrison’s Keillor’s review of My Song for the New York Times.

Posted in Edmundo Ros, Harry Belafonte | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

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