Renowned percussionist, songwriter, and singer James Mtume passed away suddenly on Sunday, Jan. 9. His cause of death is unknown. He was 76.
Mtume, real name James Forman, was a jazz and R&B musician, record producer, activist, and radio personality.
“A lot of folks didn’t know that Mtume was so political and savvy in so many different areas,” said Fatiyn Muhammad, the host of the WBLS radio show Open Line.
“I felt like the air got sucked out the room. Mtume was a special individual,” he said on Sunday.
In 2008, Mtume (far left) celebrated Rev. Al Sharpton‘s birthday with Dominique Sharpton and Gov. David Paterson at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers in New York.
Mtume was discovered by legendary trumpeter Miles Davis who took the young musician on tour with him between 1971 and 1975.
Mtume later formed an R&B group called Mtume, which is best known for the 1983 R&B hit song “Juicy Fruit.” The song has been repeatedly sampled by rappers, most notably The Notorious B.I.G. in his hit single “Juicy” in 1994. The band Mtume also had a top-5 R&B hit with the single “You, Me, and He”.
Mtume’s father, James Heath, was a world-famous saxophonist of the Heath Brothers. However, he was raised by James Forman, also a jazz musician who played with jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, according to Mtume.
“So, when I’m growing up, maybe at dinner one night, there’s Dizzy Gillespie, another night, there’s John Coltrane [or] Thelonious Monk.
“I was only 10 years old, so I didn’t know how deep it was, but I did know it was extraordinary hearing these conversations with these great jazz musicians,” he told the Philadelphia 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 — so I had a very interesting musical background coming up.”
In the 1980s, Mtume and Reggie Lucas co-wrote hits such as “Never Knew Love Like This before” which won a Grammy Award for R&B superstar Stephanie Mills.