Visionary musician, songwriter and producer James Mtume from Philly has passed away
James Mtume, the Philadelphia R&B, jazz and funk musician who performed with Miles Davis, wrote and produced songs for Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway and Stephanie Mills, and is best known for the 1983 hit “Juicy Fruit “sampled by Notorious GRAND, died. He was 76 years old.
Mr Mtume’s death at his home in South Orange, New Jersey on Sunday was confirmed in a statement from his family on Monday. Its publicist Angelo Ellerbee said the cause of death was cancer.
Mr. Mtume was born into musical royalty in Philadelphia. His father was Jimmy Heath, the South Philly jazz saxophonist who died in 2020 at the age of 93, and he was raised by Philly pianist James “Hen Gates” Forman, whom he also called his father. “I don’t use the word stepfather” he said to Philadelphia Tribune in 2018.
After moving to California to attend Pasadena City College in the 1960s on a swimming scholarship, he took on the name Mtume – which translates from Swahili to “messenger” – while he was a member of the American organization Black Power.
As news of his death spread, Mr. Mtume was celebrated as a visionary in the music world and beyond.
“Mtume was SUPREME”, guitarist of Living Color Vernon Reid wrote on Twitter. “Incredibly talented. Incredibly dedicated. Incredibly nice. Incredibly committed. The highest caliber of jazz and R&B musician. Mentor. Griot. Soul brother. “
Cornel West called him “a Renaissance man – a moving artist, a courageous freedom fighter and a deep lover of blacks and the oppressed!” The super jazz sax Sonny Rollins, who Mr. Mtume sat with in California in the late 1960s, wrote: “In Mtume, job well done. Hope to spend some more time with you.
“In the Contemporary Music Hall of Fame, he scored high,” Philadelphia radio host and music veteran Dyana Williams said Monday. His friendship with Mr. Mtume lasted 50 years.
“He was revered by other producers. When you consider who he is in the history of music here in Philadelphia, he was the son of Jimmy Heath and the nephew of the Heath Brothers. He understood his heritage and he touched all kinds of music. And he’s been doing it for a long period of time, and not many people have that level of durability. “
Mr. Mtume’s musical education began early. James Forman has supported Charlie Parker and other jazz giants on the piano, “so when I grow up, maybe at dinner one night, there’s Dizzy Gillespie. Another night, there is John Coltrane or Thelonious Monk, ”he told the Tribune. “At the same time, I’m growing up listening to the birth of R&B and soul – there’s James Brown, the Temptations, Motown.”
Mr Mtume started playing music at the age of 10, he told The Inquirer in 2020, choosing R&B hits on the piano at his family home in South Philly. He had his first professional concert in 1968 in Los Angeles, playing drums for Leon “Ndugu” Chancler for $ 40. “I don’t remember who was there, but I remember we got paid.”
In 1969, he recruited Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry, his father Jimmy Heath and his uncle Albert “Tootie” Heath to play on the album. Kawaida. In 1972, he released his first solo album, Alkebu-Lan: Land of the Blacks.
Miles Davis saw Mr. Mtume perform at Village Vanguard and hired him as a percussionist, from the 1972 album. In the corner, an experimental jazz fusion album mocked by critics but now considered a classic. Mr. Mtume has taken Davis’ exploration ethics to heart. When asked where he studied, his answer was “MD University”.
Mr. Mtume performed with Davis for five years, then formed the band Mtume with guitarist Reggie Lucas, who died in 2018. Mr. Mtume and Lucas, working with singer Tawatha Agee, have written and produced for a number of artists in a style he called “sophistifunk”.
They have recorded hits with “You Know How To Love Me” by Phyllis Hyman, “The Closer I Get To You” by Flack and Hathaway, “Two Hearts” by Mills and Teddy Pendergrass and “Never Knew Love Like This Before” by Mills, who won a Grammy in 1981.
The group recorded modest R&B hits with “Give It On Up (If You Want To)” and “So You Want To Be A Star” in 1980, before hitting hard with “Juicy Fruit” in 1983 and “You, Me. and He, “next year.
In 1994, Bad Boy Records executive Sean “Puffy” Combs sampled “Juicy Fruit” in Notorious BIG’s “Juicy”. “Juicy Fruit” has become one of the most sampled songs in history, used by Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Alicia Keys, among others.
The Mtume Group broke up in the 1990s, but Mr. Mtume remained productive. He scored the network television drama New York infiltrated, produced Mary J. Blige, K-Ci & Jojo and R. Kelly, and was co-host and political commentator on New York radio station WBLS-FM (101.3) for 18 years.
“Music is a unique art form,” Mtume told a TED talk in Cape May, NJ, in 2018. “Society is the thermostat that regulates the temperature. Art and artists are the thermometers that reflect it.
Mr. Mtume is survived by his wife, Kamili Mtume; his brother Jeffrey Forman, his sons Faulu Mtume and Richard Johnson, and his daughters Benin Mtume, Eshe King, Ife Mtume and Sanda Lee. Plans are underway for a memorial.