James Mtume, legendary R&B and Jazz composer/producer/performer, has died at age 75. Mtume was one of the seminal figures in jazz fusion, funk and 80s R&B, a sound that spanned generations. It was Mtume's niece, Lisa Lucas, who broke the news via Twitter.
“So much loss. So much grief. Rest in power to Uncle Mtume," she tweeted. "My late father’s partner-in-crime[.] The co-creator of the songs of my life (and about my birth!). He was [an] essential part of the life of the man who made me, therefore me too. Gone now. He will be dearly, eternally missed.”
Born James Heath in Philadelphia, he was the son of jazz great Jimmy Heath but raised by his mother Bertha Forman and pianist James “Hen Gates” Forman. As a child, he was around jazz icons and eventually developed a talent for percussion.
In the late 1960s, he was also a member of Hakim Jamal and Maulana Karenga’s US Organization, changed his name to "Mtume," which means "messenger" in Swahili, and joined Miles Davis' band. He would go on to play with such luminaries as Duke Ellington, Pharoah Sanders, McCoy Tyner, Lonnie Liston Smith and Sonny Rollins. He would team up with Reggie Lucas as he shifted into R&B, penning hits such as Stephanie Mills’ “Never Knew Love Like This Before” and Roberta Flack’s “The Closer I Get to You." He would form his own group, the jazz, funk, and R&B hybrid band Mtume. They released their debut Kiss This World Goodbye in 1978, and eventually landed hits, most notably 1983s "Juicy Fruit." The song would be famously sampled by the Notorious B.I.G. for his 1994 single "Juicy."
“Music is a unique art form. I mean all art is special,” he said during his Ted Talk in 2019. “But music is unique. It’s the only art form I know that can touch you, but you can’t touch it. What do I mean by that? I can touch a sculpture, I can touch a painting, I can touch a book of poetry. How do you touch a note? How do you touch sound? It runs through your body.”