Jazz and R&B musician James Mtume has died

The Grammy-winning musician was best known for the 1983 hit Juicy Fruit and his work with the likes of Miles Davis and Roberta Flack.

James Mtume, the prolific songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, has died aged 76. Mtumbe’s death was confirmed by his son to Pitchfork. His cause of death remains unknown.

Mtume was born James Forman in Philadelphia in 1946. His father was the saxophonist Jimmy Heath and his stepfather, James ‘Hen Gates’ Forman, was a local jazz pianist.

During his college years, in the mid-to-late 60s, Mtume joined the US Organization – a Black empowerment collective founded by Hakim Jamal and Maulana Karenga. It was during this time that he was given the surname ‘Mtume’, which means ‘messenger’ in Swahili. 

Mtume later moved to New York and played shows with McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis, whose group he ended up joining and playing in for several years. Mtume worked with Davis on 1972’s On the Corner LP, among other releases. He also worked with a slew of other jazz greats including Art Farmer, Lonnie Liston Smith Jr., Gato Barbieri and Pharoah Sanders.

Mtume enjoyed a prolific career as a soloist and as part of his eponymous jazz, funk and R&B hybrid group. In 1983, the group released their hit single Juicy Fruit – the title track to their third album. The song would eventually be sampled by Notorious B.I.G. on his 1994 track Juicy. It’s since been sampled by countless others.

Elsewhere, Mtume composed scores for TV and film and produced and co-wrote music for the likes of Stephanie Mills, and Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway alongside his creative partner Reggie Lucas, who died in 2018.

Following the news of his passing, Lisa Lucas – the daughter of the late Reggie Lucas – tweeted: “So much loss. So much grief. Rest in power to Uncle Mtume. My late father’s partner in crime, the co-creator of the songs of my life (and about my birth!). He was essential part of the life of the man who made me, therefore me too. Gone now. He will be dearly, eternally missed.” [sic]

A number of other tributes have been paid to the legendary musician online, some of which can be read below.


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