James Mtume, Grammy-Award Winning Musician, Dies at 76

Grammy Award Winning Artist James Mtume Dead at 76
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The Notorious B.I.G. sampled Mtume’s hit “Juicy Fruit,” for his 1994 breakout single, “Juicy.”

James Mtume, the legendary jazz and R&B musician, Grammy-winning songwriter and activist, has died. He was 75.

Mtume was best known for his band’s 1983 R&B hit “Juicy Fruit.” Less than 10 years later it would become the breakout single for one of music’s most prolific artists– The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy,” released in 1994.

Born James Forman in 1946, he grew up in Philadelphia under heavy jazz influences from his parents. His father was saxophonist Jimmy Heath. He was raised by his stepfather, James “Hen Gates” Forman, who was a jazz percussionist. That led to Mtume taking up percussion and piano.

In 1966, he attended Pasadena City College on a swimming scholarship. That year, he also joined a Black empowerment group called US Organization, where he received his Swahili name, Mtume, which means “messenger.”

The moniker was appropriate, given the path his life was about to take. 

Mtume left the organization in 1969. That same year, he recorded some of his first records, “Kawaida” and “Alekebulan: Land of the Blacks.” Mtume would later return to the east coast, this time to New York City, where he would play alongside McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis, whose band he would later join.

In 1981, Mtume added Grammy winner to his resume for his work alongside band member Reggie Lucas for penning Stephanie Mills’ hit, “Never Knew Love Like This Before.”

Mtume was also renowned for his work with other artists including Donny Hathaway, Phyllis Hyman, Mary J. Blige and Inner City.

Later on, he would enter another career in radio, alongside Bob Slade and Bob Pickett, as the co-host of “Open Line,” a news and community affairs program that aired on New York City’s 98.7 KISS FM.

When news of Mtume's death started circulating on social media, it was met with much shock and confusion.

Songstress Lalah Hathaway tweeted, “#Mtume Giant. #RIP.”

Questlove wrote in part, “Thank you James Mtume for all the wisdom & love & respect you’ve shown me & my brothers over the years. #JamesMtume”

The Reverend Al Sharpton also weighed in, tweeting, “A talented and gifted artist, activist and thinker. I was so blessed to have him in my journey, the world is a better place because of Mtume. May he Rest in Peace and Power. I miss you already.”

Mtume’s cause of death has not yet been released. Mtume is survived by his two children, Fa Mtume and Damu Mtume.

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