The COVID-19 pandemic claims beloved trombonist Tony McDonald.
You might have seen him cutting it up with the high-spirited Scioto Valley Brass and Percussion Co. or heard him play with the Westerville Symphony. Or maybe you saw him helming his own outfit, Dr. Tony’s Original Ragtime Band. If you’ve been a music lover in Central Ohio in the last quarter-century, you’ve likely encountered conductor, arranger and trombonist extraordinaire Tony McDonald.
In August, the city grew a little quieter, as McDonald died at 70 from COVID-19—a painful indication of the virus’s toll on local performing arts. “It’s just been devastating for those of us who worked with him,” says Leslie Maaser, a member of the ragtime band. “We were like a family.”
The son of a Tuskegee Airman, McDonald worked as a college professor until he settled in Central Ohio, after his first wife, Lea, entered Ohio State University to study the flute in 1994. He went to every annual festival and loved living in Columbus, says Carey McDonald, the elder of two sons.Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
McDonald—also survived by his son Peter and his second wife, Judith—was prolific, conducting Pleasure Guild concerts for Nationwide Children’s Hospital and pitching in with the Columbus Boychoir. For over a decade, he ran the music program at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Beechwold. He also compiled a catalog of symphonic music written in tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.
Upon retiring from the church last year, McDonald paused his regular groups but was preparing to ramp back up. Then the man who made music everywhere was silenced.
“Every time I see someone not wearing a mask now,” Carey says, “it makes me think about whose family they could be endangering.”