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R.I.P. James Mtume, Jazz and R&B Musician Dead at 76

He worked with Miles Davis and wrote the song that provided the sample to Biggie's "Juicy"

James Mtume dead at 76
James Mtume, photo by David Corio/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

    James Mtume, the multi-instrumentalist who performed with Miles Davis before founding the R&B group Mtume, has died at the age of 76, Pitchfork reports. No cause of death has been revealed.

    The son of jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath, James Mtume (born James Heath Jr.) grew up in a musical environment. He was raised by his mother, Bertha Forman, and pianist James “Hen Gates” Forman, who played in Charlie Parker’s band and introduced Mtume to the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Sonny Rollins.

    In 1969, Mtume took on percussion on his uncle Albert “Tootie” Heath’s album Kawaida, which also featured Jimmy Heath, Don Cherry, and Herbie Hancock. A member of the Black empowerment collective US Organization, Mtume released the album Land of the Blacks in 1972 under the group name Mtume Umoja Ensemble. In 1971, he joined Miles Davis’ backing band, performing on some of the legend’s most adventurous material — including the wide-reaching On the Corner sessions. Mtume remained in Davis’ troupe until 1975.

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    In 1978, after collaborating with artists like Davis, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, McCoy Tyner, Lonnie Liston Smith, Gato Barbieri, and Ramsey Lewis, Mtume formed the R&B group Mtume, and released their debut album Kiss This World Goodbye. The band went on to release four more albums, including 1983’s Juicy Fruit — the title track of which was famously sampled in the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy.” 

    Outside of his own work, Mtume was also a prolific songwriter for other projects. Along with Reggie Lucas, he co-wrote Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway’s 1977 hit “The Closer I Get to You” as well as Stephanie Mills’ 1980 single “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” and in 1986, he composed the music for the film Native Son. In the 1990s, Mtume became a sought after producer, lending his talents to R. Kelly’s 1996 song “Freak Tonight,” Mary J. Blige’s 1997 album Share My World, and K-Ci and Jo-Jo’s 1997 debut Love Always. Mtume also worked in radio, serving as an on-air personality for New York City’s KISS 98.7 FM. In 2019, he gave a TED Talk titled “Our Common Ground in Music.” Check out some of his works below.

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