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Kansas City jazz and tap legend Ronald McFadden, half of the McFadden Brothers, dies at 66

The McFadden Brothers (Lonnie on left and Ronald on right) have been wowing audiences around the globe since the 1970s.
Paul Andrews
The McFadden Brothers (Lonnie on left and Ronald on right) have been wowing audiences around the globe since the 1970s.

McFadden performed for decades with his brother Lonnie McFadden. The two danced, sang and played instruments. "I love entertaining," Ronald McFadden told KCUR's Up to Date last year.

Ronald McFadden, part of the legendary Kansas City jazz duo the McFadden Brothers, died this week at 66 years old.

McFadden and his brother Lonnie performed on stage together for nearly 60 years as dancers, singers and instrumentalists. The pair grew up in Kansas City’s jazz scene, learning to tap from their father, a famous dancer and singer who went by Smilin' Jimmy McFadden.

Ronald McFadden told KCUR’s Up to Date last July that he had no idea that he’d end up having a lifelong career performing with his brother.

“I just know that I love entertaining and that’s what we’ve been doing, man,” he said. “And I’ve had a ball doing it.”

The pair were inducted into the American Jazz Walk of Fame on July 2, joining the ranks of distinguished musicians such as Bobby Watson, Nina Simone and Quincy Jones. The two said the honor was “surreal” for them.

Lonnie McFadden said the event brought back memories of his early childhood.

"It made me realize that, for me to be standing there, which was probably 100 yards away from where my father grew up… where we did our first recital was right across the way at the YMCA," Lonnie said. "It was very deep to me when I thought about everything, and the journey to get there."

The brothers took a break from performing together before reuniting in 2022 at Lonnie’s Reno Club in the lower level of the Ambassador Hotel Kansas City.

Ronald said the break was necessary for him to spend more time with his family.

“I didn’t want to just do nightclubs all the time, because my daughters — they’re still in school," he said. “That time in the evening that I would normally be out playing, I need to spend with them.”

Fans of the performer took to social media to send condolences and remember his legacy.

Though jazz's role in Kansas City has evolved over the decades, McFadden leaves behind a scene that he told Up to Date is still very much alive.

“Now, you have a lot of young musicians out here playing that are really good,” McFadden said. “When Bobby Watson came back, that invited a whole new influx of musicians and we still have a pretty vibrant jazz scene.”

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