Bluegrass musician Mike McDonald's widow creates memorial album

September 09, 2012|By BETH ROWLAND | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Marjorie McDonald dealt with the sudden death of her husband by creating "A Life Remembered with Mike McDonald," a memorial album.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

People work through their grief after losing a loved one in different ways. Marjorie "Margie" McDonald of Hagerstown chose to create a memorial album of her husband Mike's music as her way of dealing with devastating loss.

"A Life Remembered with Mike McDonald" is the result.

Mike McDonald, a well-known and popular local bluegrass musician and vocalist, passed away unexpectedly Sept. 16, 2011, from a blood clot after suffering a fall from a ladder eight months earlier in January. The father of two was just 39.

The fall had left him with a badly broken leg and ankle and a fractured back, and facing a long recovery. But McDonald said those eights months became a special time in their lives, a time when Mike focused on his family and friends, his faith and his music.

After years of playing with various bluegrass bands including Cross Creek, Hickory Ridge and Circa Blue, in what would be his final six months, Mike formed The In Crowd, a new band that included Margie on vocals as well as previous bandmates Brian Brewer and Matt Hickman from Hickory Ridge. He was also working on a solo album when he died.

"I wanted to keep Mike's memory and his legacy alive, " McDonald said.

When his music was played at his funeral — which more than 500 people attended  — many people asked where they could get a copy of his songs. His wife was inspired to create the memorial album, something she considers to be divine intervention.

To select the songs included on the album, McDonald "prayed on it a lot, " she said, listening to all Mike's music throughout his career. The album includes songs from his earlier years as well as brand new material from The In Crowd.

Before his accident, Mike often spent 12 to 14 hours a day working as a master HVAC technician in the greater Washington, D.C., area. It was during those last months that Mike wrote "Tired of the Same Old Grind," a song based on those long days away from home.

"He would call me from Braddock Mountain to tell me he was almost home and I'd finish up dinner," McDonald said, a situation Mike sings about in this anthem to family and friends.

Unfinished when Mike died, the song was missing its planned mandolin track. Circa Blue's Ronnie Webb stepped in and laid down the mandolin music for the piece.

Other songs were missing the banjo track Mike had wanted.

 "The banjo was the only instrument Mike hadn't mastered," McDonald said. "Matt Hickman came to the rescue on those and I am forever grateful to both he and Ronnie for their help."

Mike also wrote the instrumental "Dismal Hollow" on the album.

"A Life Remembered" includes bluegrass favorites such as "Carolina" and Larry Sparks' "John Deere Tractor," along with the song from which Mike's last band took its name, "The In Crowd," by Jerry McBee and Fred Lehner.

The almost prophetic and haunting ballad "Someday" by Olive Stockton closes the album and holds special meaning for Margie McDonald with its hope for a reunion in heaven.

Todd Stotler of Echoes Recording Studios in Sharpsburg produced the album and helped retrieve the recordings from Mike's computer files so the others could add their tracks and finish his work.

Although McDonald said she's proud of the tribute album and feels sure Mike would be proud as well, making "A Life Remembered with Mike McDonald" was bittersweet. She said it brought back wonderful memories as she listened to all her late husband's music, but also reminded her of the void his passing left for her, their children and their friends. It's her wish that the memorial album helps fill that void and honors both the man and musician Mike McDonald was, she said.

About the CD

"A Life Remembered with Mike McDonald" is only available directly from the McDonald family for $20, which includes shipping. Contact Marjorie  McDonald at for more information.

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