The Life & Times of Music Legend, Clarence McDonald
Welcome to the wonderful world of music legend, Clarence McDonald. An exceptional talent in a league all his own, he lays claim to a profound musical career spanning nearly 40 years.
With commitment, intelligence, generosity and humility, Clarence McDonald’s artistry has graced us with some of the most memorable songs of our time. Born in Los Angeles, California on February 24th to Curtis and Ocie McDonald, Clarence showed an early interest in music.
Both his parents and Alma Hightower, a prominent music teacher at the time who taught Clarence to play the piano, encouraged his early instincts. The combination of early exposure and unconditional support launched the young man on his journey to becoming a great musician, song-writer and producer.
By the age of 12, Clarence was playing the piano for Angeles Funeral Home, then located on Jefferson Boulevard and Central Avenue. By 16, he was out playing at the local nightclub, Memory Lane, accompanying jazz artist Lorez Alexandria. On the weekends, he played with Charles Lloyd in the Chico Hamilton Quintet often working till dawn, before heading straight to school on Monday mornings.
Upon graduation from Dorsey High School, he attended Cal State, Los Angeles. During his sophomore year, Clarence was invited to tour with Ray Charles. While on the road, he managed to complete his schooling, graduating with honors in 1964. After college, Clarence was introduced to the art and business of session recording, immediately contributing to some of music’s all-time favorite pop tunes, still played today.
In 1965, Clarence recorded with a group called the Vocals who later changed their name to none other than the 5th Dimension. Lending his own special groove to classics like Up Up and Away, his career as a musician was taking shape.
In 1966, when his ascent in the music world appeared to anticipate no limit, he was drafted into the United States Army and sent to Vietnam, where he served for two years. His division was sent home on January 7, 1968, the day before the North Vietnamese overran and destroyed their base camp in a takeover known as the infamous TET Offensive.
After The War
Back at home, with the war behind him, Clarence made a conscious decision to live his life to the fullest, appreciating just how tenuous life can be. He wasted no time returning to the music business as a session and recording musician, and quickly earned a reputation as one music’s finest.
His exceptional talent and all-around positive energy provided him with the opportunity to work with some of the industry’s best musicians and singers of the time. But Clarence didn’t rest on his success. Expanding his musical expertise, he became an accomplished songwriter and record producer as well.
A highlight of his career was writing and producing the Emotions Platinum Album Rejoice with Maurice White. On the album was the #1 pop song, The Best of My Love.
Also topping his list of memorable achievements was his songwriting contributions to the Platinum album, This is Niecy by Denise Williams, his role as producer of Bill Withers Gold album, “Menagerie” as well as his collaboration with Ray Charles on the album, Genius Loves Company arranging and playing keyboards for the Grammy award winning song, “Heaven Help Us All.”
Surrounded By Music Legends
Clarence considers himself truly blessed with wonderful mentors throughout his life, fortunate to have been guided and taught by four very special men: his father, Curtis McDonald: music legend, Ray Charles: piano legend, Hubie Blake: and singer, song-writer, minister, OC Smith.
As a child, his father gave him the freedom to follow his heart’s bliss and lived his life in such a way that Clarence, the boy, could clearly see the positive results of a truly good life. As a teenager, Ray Charles taught him everything about music and to love what he did.
As a young man, Eubie Blake gave him seasoned knowledge. And as a mature man, OC Smith showed him how to bring it all together and to apply this wisdom to his daily life.
When asked the secret to his incredible career, Clarence sums it up in one word, “persistence.” “The thing that makes you the best is repetition. Do something over and over again and you will be successful.”