Photo: Getty Images
  /  01.10.2022

James Mtume, celebrated jazz artist and frontman of the 80s R&B group Mtume, has died, his son Faulu Mtume confirmed to Pitchfork. He was 76 years old.

Mtume’s group was best known for their hit “Juicy Fruit,” which was famously sampled in The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy.”

In 1980, Mtume and Reggie Lucas also won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song for writing and producing Stephanie Mills’ hit, “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” which also earned her a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. On Twitter, she reflected on his passing.

“I am saddened to hear of the passing of my dear friend and producer James Mtume,” Mills wrote. “He was so brilliant and an amazing music mind. The work chemistry we had was second to none. I will continue to lift you up through our music”

Mtume was born James Forman in 1946 in Philadelphia. The son of a jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath and raised by his stepfather, a local jazz pianist, Mtume was surrounded by jazz musicians from an early age. 

In 1966, he joined the Black nationalist group US Organization and changed his name to Mtume, which means “messenger” in Swahili.

In 1969, he released his studio debut album Kawaida, which saw contributions from his father, Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry and his uncle Albert “Tootie” Heath. He moved to New York in 1970 and formed the Mtume Umoja Ensemble, which released its first album, Land of the Blacks, two years later.

A frequent collaborator of Miles Davis, Mtume also played a large role in the jazz legend’s 1972 albumOn the Corner. In 1978; he, Reggie Lucas and Tawatha Agee formed the R&B, funk and soul group Mtume, which released its debut album Kiss This World Goodbye that same year. The group went on to release records In Search of the Rainbow Seekers; Juicy Fruit; You, Me and He; and Theater of the Mind.

As a songwriter, Mtume also wrote hits for artists such as Mary J. Blige, Phyllis Hyman, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, Inner City and more. See tributes to the late artist on Twitter below.

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