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Clarence McDonald


Pianist, composer, arranger, and producer

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Biography

Born in Los Angeles, California on February 24th, to Curtis and Ocie McDonald, Clarence showed an early interest in music.

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. Both his parents encouraged his early instincts.

Alma Julia Hightower, a prominent music teacher at the time taught Clarence to play the piano, 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 the age of 16 McDonald was playing at the local nightclub, Memory Lane, accompanying American jazz & gospel singer Lorez Alexandria. On the weekends, he played with the Chico Hamilton Quintet through an invitation from the Musical Director and jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd. McDonald understood the guitar voicing's required for the quartet and was able to play them on the piano. He often worked till dawn, before heading straight to school on Monday mornings.

Upon graduation from Dorsey High School, he attended Cal State, Los Angeles. He completed his college 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 the early 1960s McDonald began working with the Los Angeles based vocal group called 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. The Vocals, changed their name to "The 5th Dimension" around 1964. Clarence lent his own special groove to classics like "Up Up and Away". While touring, they were contacted to be the opening act for Ray Charles and traveled with Charles in 1964-65.

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". 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. With commitment, intelligence, generosity and humility, Clarence McDonald's artistry has graced us with some of the most memorable songs of our time.