James Mtume, Jazz Musician Known For Song ‘Juicy Fruit,’ Dead at 76 – Billboard

James Mtume, a jazz/R&B artist, producer and percussionist who played with Miles Davis and scored a 1983 pop hit with “Juicy Fruit,” died at 76 over the weekend. No official cause of death was available at press time, with Pitchfork first reporting the musician’s passing based on confirmation from Mtume’s son, Faulu Mtume; late creative partner Reggie Lucas’ daughter, Lisa Lucas, also paid tribute to her uncle in a tweet in which she wrote, “so much loss. So much grief. Rest in power Uncle Mtume. My later father’s partner-in-crime. The co-creator of the songs of my life (and about my birth).” At press time Billboard had not independently confirmed Mtume’s death.


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The Philadelphia-born artist was best known for his lascivious, jazz funk hit “Fruit,” which reached No. 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and spent eight weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart. The song also went on to be a popular sample on a string of R&B and hip-hop songs, including Alicia Keys’ “Juiciest,” Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Juicy” and, most famously, the Notorious B.I.G.’s 1994 smash debut single “Juicy.”

Born James Heath on Jan. 3, 1946, Mtume, son of jazz saxophone player Jimmy Heath, was raised by his stepfather, jazz pianist James Forman and took his stage name during college by adopting the Swahili word for “messenger.” His career took off after a move to New York, where he earned gigs playing alongside such jazz legends as McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis, with whom he collaborated from 1971-1975, playing percussion on such landmark electric albums as On the Corner and Pangaea.

Working with musical partner guitarist/songwriter Lucas, Mtume also produced songs and albums for Stephanie Mills, Phyllis Hyman, Lou Rawls and The Spinners in the early 1980s, contributing to a string of hits including Mills’ Grammy-winning 1981 hit “Never Knew Love Like This Before” and Roberta Flack’s and Donny Hathaway’s 1978 million-selling hit “The Closer I Get To You.”

Mtume and Lucas teamed up with singer Tawatha Agee for a series of jazz funk albums in the late 1970s and 80s, including their 1978 debut, Kiss the World Goodbye, as well 1980’s In Search of the Rainbow Seekers and 1983’s Juice Fruit.

In a tribute to her friend and collaborator, Mills wrote, “I am saddened to hear of the passing of my dear friend and producer #JamesMtume. He was so brilliant and an amazing music mind. The work chemistry we had along with your writing partner Reggie Lucas was second to none. I know you two are about to reconnect and make amazing music. I will forever be grateful and I will continue to lift you up through our music. You will be missed.”

His prolific career included contributions dozens of recordings by the likes of Lonnie Liston Smith, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie and R. Kelly, as well as his co-production of Mary J. Blige’s hit 1997 album Share My World. Mtume composed music for TV (New York Undercover) and film (Native Son) and worked at New York radio station KISS 98.7 FM as one of the hosts of the “Open Line” talk show.

Listen to “Juicy Fruit” below and read tributes to Mtume from fellow musicians.

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