When David MacDonald performs on the main stage at the annual March for Life in Ottawa, it is almost more a result of personal experiences than from any theoretical opposition to abortion. The Ottawa-based musician’s story is a testimony to the fact that abortion leaves scars not only on the mother, but the father of an aborted baby as well.
MacDonald was a high-flying actor and musician in his early 20s in New York City when he and his girlfriend of the time were hit with the news that she was pregnant. “My natural response to that would have been to keep the baby, but my ego told me, ‘Your career is going well, David.'” Her career was going well also – she was an actress. We said, “It doesn’t make sense to have a child at this time.”
When his girlfriend underwent an abortion shortly afterward, it set in motion a precipitous downfall in his fortunes that led him to the nadir of life. But the experience also set the stage for his eventual embrace of the Christian faith and a solidly pro-life ethic.
MacDonald recalls performing for the first time at five years old, when he jumped onto a table at home and belted out a version of Tiny Tim’s Tiptoe Through the Tulips. “My family clapped and thought it was wonderful. My addiction to attention started.”
MacDonald started picking up instruments at eight, when his brother brought home a guitar, and he went on to immerse himself in music through his teens by studying piano, flute, guitar, voice and music theory. His professional career began when he hooked up with a prominent Quebec singer who invited him to join his band. From there, MacDonald went on to perform at Club Med in the Bahamas.
Moving to New York City, MacDonald involved himself with a group of rap music producers, just as that genre was beginning to gain popularity. “I did very well. They called me Mighty Whitey,” he recalls with a laugh.
While immersed in the fledgling New York rap scene at the tender age of 21, MacDonald caught wind of an open call for rock and roll performers for a Broadway show. “Two thousand people were lined up outside a Broadway theatre on 42nd Street. After six weeks, and six callbacks, I got the role. I ended up doing a couple of movies for Paramount Pictures and Columbia Pictures. I co-starred in ABC after-school specials and in commercials for Nintendo and Levis. I was hanging out with Robert Downey Jr.”
Despite the outer trappings of success, however, MacDonald felt strangely unfulfilled. “I started falling into a ditch, losing control. I started doing cocaine, drugs and alcohol, trying to fill a hole inside me that I couldn’t fill with fame, money and attention.”
Things went from bad to worse following his girlfriend’s abortion, when MacDonald was struck with a virus while on a national tour with the musical Cats. I was losing weight and not eating properly. My emotional stability was going down the tubes. I blew my voice out completely. I couldn’t talk or sing for three years. That was the end of my career, at 24 years old.”
MacDonald could only retreat back to Ottawa and assess what had happened to him. “If you think it’s bad being at the top of the world without God, trying being at the bottom of the world without God,” he muses.
Travelling to Montreal in order to change his name and join an eastern mysticism cult in search of spiritual fulfillment, MacDonald one day found himself inside that city’s historic St. Joseph’s Oratory. He was inspired by the scene of several women praying at the feet of a statue of Jesus Christ.
“I thought, ‘These women have faith. They believe in God and Christ.’ It was a very powerful testimony for me.”
Himself being led to kneel down before the statue, MacDonald prayed that Christ would lead him to understanding and take over his life. “I felt this energy come over me,” he recalls. “I stood up a new man, tall and strong. I felt like I had put my finger in a wall socket. The energy was going right through me. I lost all interest in eastern mysticism.”
MacDonald embraced the Catholic faith and thought that God was leading him to never play music again. But that changed a few years ago while he was on a spiritual retreat.
“God hit me hard and I found myself picking up a guitar. I started playing and singing words. That moment, singing for 20 people at the retreat, was more important than my Broadway opening because I was doing it for the right reason. I was doing it for God. That was the beginning of a music ministry for me. I told the Lord that I’d play only for Him, and I have been.”
MacDonald was shocked to find that the voice he thought had been damaged was back in full force and, despite not having played for a decade, his instrumental skills somehow preserved themselves.
In recent years, he has gone on to perform at music festivals in the Ottawa area and at the International Festival of Religious Song in Mississauga. He also served as the music director for the Ottawa Days in the Diocese celebrations for World Youth Day last year, and sang on the recording of the theme song for that event.
But it his performances for pro-life groups that hold the most meaning for him.
“I can stand up tall and say, ‘Yes, I did a wrong thing, but God has forgiven me and I am here to tell other people that abortion is wrong. Life really matters from conception to natural death.’ I’m grateful that God can use my musical gifts to help forward his message. Anyway He wants me to do that, I’ll say yes to.”
Apart from performing at the March for Life last year, MacDonald also composed a theme song (Let Them Live) and produced a pro-life fundraising CD that he hoped would give pro-lifers grace, encouragement and strength. He’ll be doing the same things this May, with a new CD that will contain a split of pro-life and Christian contemporary songs.
Looking back on his life, MacDonald says he doesn’t see the transformation from a New York City-based music and acting star making close to six figures annually to a Christian musician in Ottawa as a comedown. “It’s been the opposite of a comedown. It a come-up. I’m so much more rewarded. All any human being wants to do is impact other human beings in a positive way. God has given me a way to do that, to bring people closer to Him. I’m just so grateful.”
MacDonald has no specific plans for the future, except to simply follow God’s leading daily. “I’m just trying to say yes to the Lord. My only goal is to serve God. I don’t know where it’s going to take me. I trust that if I keep saying yes to him, He will use it in a way that will transform lives.”