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James Mtume, the legendary jazz and R&B musician, has died. Mtume’s son Faulu confirmed to Pitchfork that Mtume had died. No cause of death has been reported. Mtume was 75.
James Mtume was born James Forman in Philadelphia. He was the son of another jazz legend, the saxophonist Jimmy Heath, and he was raised by his stepfather James “Hen Gates” Forman, who’d played in Charlie Parker’s band. In high school, Mtume was a champion swimmer, and he went to Pasadena City College on scholarship. In college, he joined the US Organization, a black-empowerment group, and he took the name James Mtume.
In 1969, Mtume played percussion on his uncle Albert “Tootie” Heath’s album Kawaida alongside greats like Don Cherry and Herbie Hancock. Mtume also formed a group called Mtume Umoja Ensemble and released the album Alkebu-Lan: Land Of The Blacks in 1972, developing a form of jazz that highlighted Black cultural identity. In the early ’70s, Mtume moved to New York, where joined Miles Davis’ band. Mtume played with Miles Davis for several years in the ’70s, and Davis named a song from his classic 1972 album On The Corner after Mtume. Mtume also contributed to albums from people like Pharaoh Sanders, McCoy Tyner, Sonny Rollins, and Lonnie Liston Smith.
In 1978, James Mtume formed Mtume, a funk and R&B band that also featured the future Madonna producer Reggie Lucas on guitar. Mtume released their debut album Kiss This World Goodbye in 1978, and they’re best known for the 1983 song “Juicy Fruit.” The single topped the R&B chart for eight weeks and made it to #45 on the Hot 100. In later years, samples of “Juicy Fruit” would appear on the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” and on dozens of other records. Mtume also released the top-10 R&B hits “You, Me And He” and “Breathless.”
In that same period, James Mtume also worked with his bandmate Reggie Lucas to write and produce Stephanie Mills’ 1980 top-10 pop hit “Never Knew Love Like This Before” and the Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway duets “The Closer I Get To You” and “Back Together Again.” After Mtume broke up in 1986, James Mtume scored the movie Native Son. Later on, James Mtume produced for artists like Mary J. Blige and K-Ci & Jo-Jo, worked as an on-air personality on New York’s KISS-FM, and composed the theme for the TV show New York Undercover.
Below, listen to some of Mtume’s’ work.
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