Clarence McDonald, Keyboardist and Producer on Grammy Winners, Dies at 76
Clarence “Mac” McDonald, a keyboardist, producer, songwriter and arranger who collaborated with the likes of Ray Charles, Bill Withers, James Taylor and Cheech & Chong, has died. He was 76.
McDonald died Wednesday in Las Vegas after a long battle with cancer, a family spokesperson said.
In the 1960s, McDonald served as the musical director and pianist for The Vocals — an opening act for Charles that was a forerunner of The 5th Dimension — and later played keyboards on “Movin’ on Up,” the theme song to the 1975-85 CBS sitcom The Jeffersons that was performed by actress Ja’Net DuBois and a gospel choir.
He made songwriting contributions to Deniece Williams’ 1976 debut album This Is Niecy; produced Withers’ 1977 LP Menagerie, which included the No. 1 hit “Lovely Day”; and co-produced with Maurice White the Emotions’ 1977 album, Rejoice, which featured another chart-topper, the Grammy winning “The Best of My Love.”
McDonald played on songs including Taylor’s 1975 classic “How Sweet It Is” and Charles and Gladys Knight’s Grammy-winning “Heaven Help Us All,” from Charles’ final album, 2004’s Genius Loves Company. And he was the only musician heard on Cheech & Chong’s seminal 1972 comedy album, Big Bambu.
Born in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 1945, McDonald was playing the piano in a funeral home by the age of 12 and in nightclubs by age 16. He graduated from Dorsey High School, then, after working with The Vocals, spent two years in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
McDonald went on to work with such other acclaimed artists as The Temptations, Ella Fitzgerald, Carole King, The Jackson 5, Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Marlena Shaw, Hall & Oates, Nancy Wilson, Freddie Hubbard, Johnny Mathis, Billy Preston, Tina Turner, Justin Timberlake, Linda Ronstadt, Boz Scaggs and Seals & Crofts during his 50-plus-year career.
Survivors include his wife, Susan.