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Michael McDonald (singer)

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Michael McDonald
McDonald performing live in 2019
Background information
Born (1952-02-12) February 12, 1952 (age 72)
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • keyboardist
  • record producer
  • Vocals
  • keyboards
  • guitar
Years active1974–present
Associated acts

Michael McDonald (born February 12, 1952) is an American singer-songwriter, keyboardist, and record producer known for his distinctive, soulful voice and as a member of the bands The Doobie Brothers (1975-1982, 1987) and Steely Dan (1974). McDonald wrote and sang several hit singles with The Doobie Brothers, including "What a Fool Believes", "Minute By Minute", and "Takin' It to the Streets". McDonald has also performed as a prominent backing vocalist on numerous recordings by artists including Steely Dan, Christopher Cross, and Kenny Loggins. He is considered an influential figure in the development of the yacht rock genre.

McDonald's solo career consists of nine studio albums and a number of singles, including the 1982 hit "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)". During his career, McDonald has collaborated with a number of other artists, including James Ingram, David Cassidy, Van Halen, Patti LaBelle, Lee Ritenour, the Winans, Aretha Franklin, Toto,[1] Grizzly Bear,[2] Joni Mitchell, and Thundercat. He has also recorded for television and film soundtracks. McDonald is the recipient of five Grammy Awards.

Early years[edit]

Michael McDonald was born on February 12, 1952, into an Irish American Catholic family in Ferguson, Missouri,[3] a suburb of St. Louis. McDonald attended McCluer High School,[citation needed] where he played in local bands including Mike and the Majestics, Jerry Jay and the Sheratons, the Reeb-Toors/Younger Brothers, and the Guild. He was 'discovered' while playing with a band called Blue, and moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1970 to pursue a career in music.

Steely Dan[edit]

In 1974, McDonald became a member of Steely Dan's touring band, singing lead and backing vocals. He also became one of the many in-studio adjunct members of the band, providing backing vocals on tracks for 1975's Katy Lied.[4] He appeared on subsequent Steely Dan recordings including 1976's The Royal Scam[5] and 1977's Aja.[6] He also played keyboards on some Steely Dan tracks.[7]

McDonald continued to provide backing vocals for Steely Dan through their 1980 release, Gaucho.[8] In 2006, he joined Steely Dan on the band's summer tour, both as the opening act and as part of the band.[9]

The Doobie Brothers[edit]

McDonald with the Doobie Brothers, 1976

McDonald was recruited by the rock band the Doobie Brothers in April 1975, initially as a temporary replacement for their lead vocalist Tom Johnston after he had become ill during a national tour, but his work with the band proved so successful that they decided to retain him as a full-time member.

As a member of the Doobie Brothers, McDonald sang the lead vocals on some of the band's best-known songs such as "Real Love", "Takin' It to the Streets", "Little Darling (I Need You)", "It Keeps You Runnin'", "Minute by Minute", and "What a Fool Believes" (which became a number-one single in the U.S. and earned him a 1980 Grammy Award for Song of the Year along with co-writer Kenny Loggins). At the same time, McDonald appeared as a session vocalist and keyboardist for various artists, including Christopher Cross, Stephen Bishop, Jack Jones, Bonnie Raitt, the rock band Toto, and Kenny Loggins. McDonald co-wrote "You Belong to Me" with Carly Simon, which appeared on the album Livin' on the Fault Line.[10]

McDonald reunited as a guest performer with the Doobie Brothers several times since the band's initial dissolution in 1982.[9] He reteamed with the Doobie Brothers for the track "Don't Say Goodbye" on the band's 13th studio album, World Gone Crazy.[11] In March 2014, he reunited with the Doobie Brothers to record a new album featuring the greatest hits of the Doobies' 40-plus-year career. This project was completed in conjunction with Sony Music Nashville. On the album, McDonald shares lead vocals with Sara Evans for "What a Fool Believes", Love and Theft for "Takin' it to the Streets", and Amanda Sudano-Ramirez for "You Belong to Me". The album, titled Southbound, was released on November 4, 2014, as the Doobie Brothers' 14th studio album.

On November 5, 2014, McDonald and the Doobie Brothers were featured musical guests on the 47th annual Country Music Association Awards to celebrate the release of Southbound. They were joined by Hunter Hayes, Jennifer Nettles, and Hillary Scott in their performance of "Listen to the Music." At the end of the awards ceremony, they were also joined by host Brad Paisley for "Takin' It to the Streets".

Solo career[edit]

After the Doobie Brothers' first farewell tour, McDonald released his first solo studio album, If That's What It Takes, in 1982 on the label Warner Bros.[12] The album featured the hit singles "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)", a duet with his sisters Kathy and Maureen, and "I Gotta Try", a song co-written with Kenny Loggins, who also recorded in that same year for his fourth album High Adventure.

He continued to collaborate with other artists during this period. McDonald co-wrote Van Halen's top-20 hit "I'll Wait", from their biggest-selling album 1984. "Yah Mo B There", a duet with James Ingram, won the 27th Annual Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.[13] In 1985, he released his second studio album No Lookin' Back, which for the first time, he coproduced, as well as wrote or cowrote all of the tracks and featured a minor hit with the title-track, cowritten by Kenny Loggins. By June 1986, the album had met little success, but McDonald then had a huge boost with the release of the single "Sweet Freedom", which appeared on the soundtrack to the Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines film Running Scared, and was McDonald's last top-10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The No Lookin' Back album was then re-released in some markets with the new hit single included, as well as a few songs remixed. The single "On My Own", a duet with Patti LaBelle, reached number one on the U.S. charts in 1986. Mid that year, he performed as a backing vocalist on Toto's album Fahrenheit, appearing on the hit single "I'll Be Over You", and its accompanying video. On August 22, 1986, McDonald appeared in an episode of The Young and the Restless.[14][15] Later that year, he provided backing vocals on the Wang Chung song "A Fool and His Money" from their album Mosaic. In 1987, McDonald did a featured collaboration with Gospel quartet the Winans from their Decisions album titled "Love Has No Color".

In 1990, McDonald released his third studio album, Take It to Heart, which featured a minor hit with the title track, cowritten by Diane Warren. The following year, he joined the New York Rock and Soul Revue,[16] put together by Steely Dan's lead vocalist Donald Fagen and featuring other artists such as Boz Scaggs and Phoebe Snow. In 1991, he released the single "Ever Changing Times", a duet with Aretha Franklin.

In 1999, McDonald recorded the song "Eyes of a Child" for the South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, which is a comedic ballad written by Trey Parker. It was also used at the ending credits for the movie. The same year, he sang backing vocals on the Warren Brothers' single "Better Man", from their album Beautiful Day in the Cold Cruel World.[17] He also provided lead vocals for one of three studio tracks on Chicago XXVI: Live in Concert.


In 2003, he earned two Grammy nominations for his album Motown, a tribute to the Motown sound. A year later, Motown Two was released. Music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine stated, "The album follows the same blueprint as the first record, offering highly polished, professionally produced, expertly performed interpretations of gems from the Motown vaults."[18]

In 2008, McDonald released his album Soul Speak, which includes three new songs penned by McDonald, and covers of songs by Dionne Warwick ("Walk On By"), Stevie Wonder ("Living for the City"), Van Morrison ("Into the Mystic"), Tyrone Davis ("Baby Can I Change My Mind") and others.[19]

In 2000, McDonald, along with partners Chris Pelonis and actor Jeff Bridges, founded the independent recording label Rampe St. Louis Walk of Fame.[20] McDonald recorded a duet with Ray Charles on Charles' 2004 Genius Loves Company. In 2007, McDonald helped judge the sixth annual Independent Music Awards.[21] In 2006, McDonald sang as a guest singer in the jazz quartet Fourplay from the album X, in a cover of Steve Winwood's song "My Love's Leavin'".[22]

In 2009, McDonald, along with the West Angeles COGIC Mass Choir, released the song "Storm Before the Calm" on the compilation album Oh Happy Day.[23] McDonald also contributed an alternate lead vocal track for "While You Wait for the Others", a single by the indie rock band Grizzly Bear, which released as a 7-inch single.[24]

In December 2009, McDonald donated his performance to Keep the Beat in Santa Barbara, California, where he played to a capacity crowd at the newly renovated Granada Theater. Harry Rabin, producer and head of Keep the Beat, an initiative of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation, produced the show, including two video productions and worked with student choral groups from primary and secondary schools as well as a brass section so they could perform in the show with McDonald and his band.[25]

In 2009, McDonald appeared on the satirical television sitcom 30 Rock as one of the benefit singers in the season finale episode "Kidney Now!".[26] McDonald performed the national anthem before the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl between the Boise State Broncos and TCU Horned Frogs at the University of Phoenix Stadium on January 4, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona.[27] McDonald sang "Takin' It to the Streets" on the American Idol, season nine finale, in 2010.[28]

In 2010, McDonald teamed up again with Donald Fagen and Boz Scaggs to form The Dukes of September. In June 2012, the supergroup performed on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon to promote their tour. The group also played at Lincoln Center, a performance which was then broadcast as a PBS special and later released on DVD.

In 2013, McDonald settled a $500,000 breach-of-contract suit (out of court) with Warner Music over underpayment of royalties of online sales.[29] In the summer of 2014, he co-headlined a U.S. tour with the band Toto.[30]

In 2017, McDonald was featured together with Kenny Loggins on Thundercat's single "Show You the Way", included on the latter's album Drunk.[31] In June 2017, McDonald, Loggins and Thundercat performed the song together on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.[32]

In 2018, he appeared as a guest vocalist on the song "What the World Needs Now" on Barbra Streisand's Walls.

Personal life[edit]

McDonald has been married to singer Amy Holland since 1983. They have two children, Dylan (born 1987), and Scarlett (born 1991). He moved with his family to Santa Barbara, California in the late 1990s, and has subsequently lived in Nashville, Tennessee.[33]


Touring band members[edit]

Awards and honors[edit]

Grammy Awards
Year Category Nominated work Result
1979 Record of the Year "What a Fool Believes" (The Doobie Brothers) Won
1979 Song of the Year "What a Fool Believes" (co-written with Kenny Loggins) Won
1979 "Minute by Minute" (co-written with Lester Abrams) Nominated
1979 Album of the Year Minute by Minute (The Doobie Brothers) Nominated
1979 Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus "Minute by Minute" (The Doobie Brothers) Won
1979 Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocals "What a Fool Believes" Won
1982 Best Pop Vocal Performance – Male "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)" Nominated
1984 Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal "Yah Mo B There" (with James Ingram) Won
1984 Best R&B Song "Yah Mo B There" (with James Ingram, Rod Temperton, and Quincy Jones) Nominated
1986 Best Pop Vocal Performance – Male "Sweet Freedom" Nominated
1986 Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group "On My Own" (with Patti Labelle) Nominated
2003 Best Pop Vocal Performance – Male "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" Nominated
2003 Best Pop Vocal Album Motown Nominated

In May 2011, Michael McDonald was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music.[34]

In popular culture[edit]

A fictionalized version of McDonald (portrayed by actor JD Ryznar) appeared in the online Channel 101 video series Yacht Rock. McDonald was parodied in a Second City Television skit in the early 1980s, where he is portrayed by Rick Moranis.[35]

In the 2005 comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the manager of the electronics store has a fondness for McDonald and insists on repeatedly playing one of his live concerts on the big-screen televisions, driving her employees crazy.[36]

In the Family Guy episode Padre de Familia, McDonald is hired by Peter Griffin as a backup singer during a night of patrolling Quahog.[37]

In The Cleveland Show, McDonald is Cleveland's neighbor on Grace Street and can be seen in the episodes "Skip Day" and "Mama Drama".[38][39]

On March 13, 2013, McDonald appeared in a segment on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. McDonald, Fallon and Justin Timberlake sang "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" in the round, with Fallon and Timberlake sporting McDonald's trademark white hair and emulating his distinct vocal style.[40]


  1. "Michael McDonald Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  2. "Michael McDonald Spills About Working with Grizzly Bear". Pitchfork. Retrieved 1 September 2009.
  3. Odam, Matthew. "From Missouri to Motown: Michael McDonald discusses his life in music". Statesman. Retrieved 2018-12-01.
  4. "Katy Lied – Credits". Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  5. "Royal Scam – Credits". Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  6. "Aja – Credits". Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  7. "Citizen Steel Dan – Credits". Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  8. "Gaucho – Credits". Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Steely Dan website: Tour '06". Retrieved 16 August 2008.
  10. "Michael McDonald: Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  11. "World Gone Crazy Overview". AllMusic. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  12. Giles, Jeff. "Top 15 Michael McDonald Songs". Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  13. "– Grammy winners". 2009-02-08. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
  14. Goldstein, Patrick (August 17, 1986). "Pop Eye". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  15. Reichardt, Nancy M (August 23, 1986). "What Happened Last Week On Your Favorite Soaps". Chicago Tribune. The Young and the Restless: Lauren, Traci, Danny and guest Michael McDonald gave a successful concert to benefit unwed teenage mothers.
  16. McKeough, Kevin (12 September 2010). "Fagan, McDonald and Scaggs roast a collection of rock and soul chestnuts". Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  17. Beautiful Day in the Cold Cruel World (CD insert). The Warren Brothers. BNA Records. 1998. 67678.
  18. "Motown Two – Michael McDonald". AllMusic.
  19. "Michael McDonald interview by Pete Lewis, ''Blues & Soul'', April 2008". Retrieved 2011-10-22.
  20. St. Louis Walk of Fame – Michael McDonald[permanent dead link]. Retrieved 2008-08-16.
  21. "Independent Music Awards – 6th Annual Judges". Archived from the original on October 5, 2009. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  22. "X - Fourplay - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 16 September 2017.
  23. "Jon Bon Jovi, Queen Latifah go gospel for "Day"". Reuters. March 27, 2009.
  24. "Michael McDonald Sings on New Grizzly Bear Single". Pitchfork. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
  25. "Santa Barbara Education Foundation". Retrieved 2010-04-12.[permanent dead link]
  26. "'30 Rock' 'Kidney Now!' Song Inspires 'We Are The World' Nostalgia". MTV. May 15, 2009. Archived from the original on October 29, 2009. Retrieved April 12, 2010. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  27. "Michael McDonald in Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - TCU v Boise State". Zimbio.
  28. "'American Idol' Crowns A Winner: The Live Blog". MTV News.
  29. Bobby Allyn (2013-07-15). "Singer Michael McDonald reaches online music deal". USA Today. Retrieved 2014-01-27.
  30. "Tour Page". Archived from the original on March 27, 2014. Retrieved March 19, 2016. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  31. "Listen to "Show You the Way" [ft. Michael McDonald & Kenny Loggins] by Thundercat".
  32. "Thundercat Performs 'Show You The Way' with With Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald on 'Tonight Show': Watch".
  33. "PBS Bio". PBS. Retrieved 2013-10-13.
  34. "Berklee to Present Honorary Doctorate of Music Degrees". Retrieved 16 September 2017.
  35. "SCTV 3 Gerry Todd and Michael McDonald". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-10-22.
  36. "Michael McDonald Hits Back at '40-Year-Old Virgin' Joke". Retrieved 2013-02-05.
  37. "Family Guy Season 6 Episode 6: Padre de Familia". Fox Broadcasting Company. Retrieved February 17, 2014.
  38. "The Cleveland Show Season 3 Episode 4: Skip Day". Retrieved February 17, 2014.
  39. "The Cleveland Show Season 3 Episode 21: Mama Drama". Retrieved February 17, 2014.
  40. "Justin Timberlake Spoofs Michael McDonald on 'Fallon' Former Doobie Brothers singer joins in on the fun". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2013-03-18.

External links[edit]