James Mtume of Trailblazing R&B Group Mtume Has Died

James Mtume, legendary jazz and soul composer and frontman of R&B group Mtume, died on Sunday at the age of 76.

James Mtume, longtime collaborator of Miles Davis and frontman of ’80s R&B outfit Mtume, has died. The news was confirmed by his son Faulu Mtume on Pitchfork. While cause of death has not been confirmed, the musician died nearly a week after his 76th birthday.

Born James Forman in 1946 in Philadelphia, the jazz prodigy was son of saxophonist Jimmy Heath who died in January 2020. From birth, Forman was surrounded by jazz influences who piqued his interest in the genre, from uncle Albert “Tootie” Heath to Herbie Hancock.

In 1966 Forman changed his name to James Mtume while attending Pasadena City College. The musician had joined Black nationalist group US Organization, choosing the name Mtume which means ‘messenger’ in Swahili. Both a pianist and percussionist since his teens, Mtume played percussion alongside Hancock, his father and Don Cherry on his uncle’s 1969 spiritual jazz album Kawaida.

Relocating to New York in 1970, Mtume went on to assemble his first group Mtume Umoja Ensemble who released their debut album Land of the Blacks in 1972. From 1971 to 1975, Mtume collaborated with Miles Davis, where he was an instrumental art of Davis’ 1972 album On the Corner. In years to come, Mtume also played for Lonnie Liston SmithSonny Rollins and Pharaoh Sanders.

Mtume formed his R&B, funk and soul group Mtume in 1978 with guitarist Reggie Lucas and vocalist Tawatha Agee. Releasing their debut album Kiss This World Goodbye in the same year as their formation, Mtume released sophomore album In Search of the Rainbow Seekers, landing on Juicy Fruit in 1983. The title song is long-remembered for being sampled on 1994 The Notorious B.I.G. hit “Juicy”.

Mtume ended their streak with 1984 album You, Me and He and 1986 finale Theater of the Mind. Mtume and Lucas later became a production and songwriting duo, writing for Stephanie Mills on 1980 track “Never Knew Love Like This Before” which won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance. Later becoming an on-air personality for KISS 98.7 FM, Mtume also wrote for Roberta Flack, Phyllis Hyman, Donny Hathaway and Mary J. Blige during his legendary career.

Check out tweets in memoriam of Mtume below.


Jaelani Turner-Williams

Jaelani Turner-Williams is a contributing news writer for Okayplayer with bylines at Billboard, MTV News, NYLON, Recording Academy and more. Read her mind on Twitter at @hernameisjae.

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