It’s with a heavy heart that I report Grammy Award-winning songwriter and musician, James Mtume, has died.
His son, Falau, confirmed the news of his passing to Pitchfork on Sunday.
He was 76.
Mtume was born in South Philadelphia in 1946 as the son of saxophonist Jimmy Heath, though he was raised by stepfather James Forman, a Philly-based jazz pianist who worked with Charlie Parker’s band.
According to the bio on his website, Mtume later moved to the West Coast in the mid-1960s after earning a swimming scholarship to Pasadena City College. There, he got involved with the Black Power movement and joined The Organization Us, whose founder Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa. It was around this time that he changed his last name to Mtume, which means “messenger” in Swahili.
After moving back east, Mtume took after his father and stepfather and rose to prominence as a jazz musician. From 1971 through 1975, he toured with jazz legend Miles Davis and his band as a percussionist.
Then, in 1978, he created his own R&B-jazz group, called Mtume, with Lucas as well as Tawatha Agee. They released five albums between then and 1986, becoming best known for “Juicy Fruit.”
The song remained on the Billboard R&B chart for 22 weeks and was later famously sampled on the Notorious B.I.G.’s hit “Juicy.”
My sincerest condolences to the Mtume family and all who knew and loved James Mtume.
May he rest in paradise.