James Mtume, jazz, funk and R&B polymath, dies aged 75

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  • The musician, songwriter, producer, activist and radio DJ worked with the likes of Stephanie Mills, Mary J. Blige and his own band, Mtume.
  • James Mtume, jazz, funk and R&B polymath, dies aged 75 image
  • James Mtume, the Philadelphia-born jazz, funk and R&B polymath, has died aged 75, Pitchfork reports. Born James Heath Jr. in 1946, Mtume was a pianist, percussionist, producer, songwriter, radio host and activist. He changed his name in the '60s after joining the Black empowerment group US Organization. Mtume means "messenger" in Swahili. His sprawling career spans eras, genres and disciplines. His first love was jazz—his father, Jimmy Heath, was a jazz saxophonist, while the man who raised him, James "Hen Gates" Forman, played piano in Charlie Parker's band. By age ten, Mtume was rubbing shoulders with icons like Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins, he told RBMA in 2014. After playing percussion with his dad, his uncle, Herbie Hancock and others on a record in 1969, Mtume toured with Miles Davis between 1971 and '75. In 1978, his own band, Mtume, released their debut album, Kiss This World Goodbye, blending jazz, funk and R&B. The group's biggest hit, "Juicy Fruit," landed in 1983. It's been sampled dozens of times by the likes of Nas, Alicia Keys and, perhaps most famously, The Notorious B.I.G. on "Juicy." Mtume also enjoyed success as a producer, working with Stephanie Mills, Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, Mary J. Blige, Teddy Pendergrass and more. He received a Grammy Award in 1980 for his work on Mills' "Never Knew Love Like This Before." In 1989, Detroit house legends Inner City released a version of another Mtume-produced Mills track, "Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin'." Read tributes to Mtume, listen to "Juicy Fruit" and watch his 2019 TED talk titled "Our Common Ground In Music."