James MTume, a musician who recorded with jazz greats before leading the R&B group Mtume, has died. Born James Heath on Jan. 3, 1946, Mtume, son of jazz saxophone player Jimmy Heath, was raised by his stepfather, jazz pianist James Forman. Mtume was 76.
Over the years, as we all found out, if you knew anything about him, it seems we never knew enough. Some of us knew Mtume as a radio personality on New York’s “Open Line” on WRKS (98.7 KISS-FM and then on WBLS-FM when the stations merged). We listened to him every Sunday as part of the three man team with the late Bob Slade and Judge Bob Pickett. It was an insightful show that was focused on issues affecting the African-American community and Mtume’s familiar voice was always a voice of reason for finding intelligent solutions to problems facing People of Color in America.
Others knew Mtume as a prominent figure in the jazz world playing with jazz luminaries such as Herbie Hancock, Lonnie Liston Smith, Don Cherry and Gato Barbieri. His career took off after a move to New York, where he earned gigs playing alongside such jazz legends as McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis, with whom he collaborated from 1971-1975, playing percussion on such landmark electric albums as On the Corner and Pangaea.
Still others knew him as an R&B Trailblazer. His R&B band Mtume was best known for his 1983 hit “Juicy Fruit” which reached number one on the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart on June 4, 1983, and remained there for eight weeks.
“In 1994, the sounds of “Juicy Fruit” were once again in the air, this time as a sample in the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy.” Boasting perhaps the most famous opening lines in hip-hop — “It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up! magazine / Salt-N-Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine” — “Juicy” cracked the Top 40 alongside other Biggie hits like “Hypnotize” and “Mo Money Mo Problems.” https://www.npr.org/2022/01/10…
@JonPareles “…… Eventually, sampling — by then licensed and credited — would keep Mr. Mtume’s music on the radio. “Juicy Fruit” has been sampled by Alicia Keys, Warren G, Jennifer Lopez, Keyshia Cole, Faith Evans and dozens of others, and many of Mr. Mtume’s other songs and productions have made their way onto new tracks.” https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/11/arts/music/james-mtume-dead.html
Mtume also co-wrote “The Closer I Get To You” sung by the incomparable Roberta Flack and the legendary Donnie Hathaway. He also co-produced the Grammy Award-winning song “Never Knew Love Like This.” The staying power of his songs is still evident as it’s been sampled by the Notorious B.I.G, Snoop Dogg, Alicia Keys and many more.
James Mtume would always share his musical journey, his brilliant insights on music culture and social progression. From a young age he was always more than just his art and we are all better for it.
Condolences are flooding social media from folks like philosopher, political activist and actor Cornell West to the estate of the famous rapper Notorious B.I.G. All evidence of his truly impressionable life as an R&B, Jazz, Funk and socio-economic trailblazer.
Having lived in South Orange, many in our local community mourn the loss of this Legend with many heartfelt expressions of love.
Curtis Hudson – Songwriter/ Producer/ Musician – South Orange
I just heard that the legendary producer/songwriter/musician/artist/activist James Mtume has passed. I send my condolences and prayers to his family and friends. I met Mtume back in the 70s when I came to NJ. He was a great inspiration and always encouraging.
He worked with the great Miles Davis and wrote and produced classic songs for Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, Stephanie Mills, Phyllis Hyman and others. He always dropped wisdom about the music business when I ran into him in the studio or saw him at music industry events.
One of the things I liked and respected the most about Mtume was how he would spread his wisdom to the next generation. One of my fond memories of Mtume was when my son Eric was attending middle school in South Orange and the school had a jazz concert with some jazz greats like Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, Barry Harris and The Dizzy Gillespie All Star Band performing for the students. Mtume was there and he asked me if Eric would like to perform with the musicians. He had heard that Eric was a music prodigy and thought it would be a great experience for him. He brought Eric on stage and let him jam with those legends. I watched Mtume smile as Eric played the piano swinging like an old head.
Afterward he introduced Eric to the band members and Barry Harris saw something special in Eric and began to mentor him and opened up a whole new world of music to Eric. That one thoughtful act by Mtume changed Eric’s life. That’s the kind of brother Mtume was. Mtume contributed so much to the music industry and will be truly missed. Rest in peace James Mtume.
Vince Ector, Drummer, Arts For Kids Founder , West Orange, NJ
Today South Philly lost another legend. ……. The last time I saw Tumes he showed me a magic trick my dad did for us both as children where you look like you remove your thumb! Lol! It brought back a flood of memories and it was as if my dad ‘s spirit was in the room with us. I hadn’t seen it since the 70’s…Deep to say the least.
When I was a teenager I remember going to meet him for the first time at his soundcheck during an Mtume tour date in Philly around 1980. My dad took me right onto the stage to meet him and I’ll never forget how he looked like an African King on a throne sitting there talking to his band during a break. He looked me in the eyes and said “I hope to see you up here one day, your dad told me all about you!”
For years as a young aspiring musician I would stop by the Hen-Gates house in SPhilly to see what Mtume was working on in NY, confident that we would reconnect there one day! ……. Rest In Peace dear brother James “Mtume” Forman.
Rest In Peace Mtume
Kyle Younger – Singer, Guitarist, Musician – Howling Poets
I liked your article on James Mtume! It was a fitting tribute to a great man…I went to high school with his niece (Newark Arts High). When I was starting out as a songwriter, she gave him a cassette tape of some songs I wrote, to which he provided some excellent feedback that I still refer to, to this day!! He loved Black music and understood its legacy on rock & roll and pop. So when people ask me why I do the music I do, especially in the domain of rock/pop, I always remind them that this is as much my music as anybody’s and that they should study their history!