James Mtume Dies: ‘Juicy Fruit’ Musician and Mtume Leader Was 76

James Mtume (Credit: jamesmtumeonline.com)

Trailblazing Jazz and R&B  percussionist James Mtume died Sunday. He was 76. No cause of death was given. 

Executive producer and host of WBLS radio show “Open Line,” Fatiyn Muhammad confirmed his death to The New York Daily News.

“I felt like the air got sucked out the room. Mtume was a special individual,” Muhammad said. 

Mtume, whose birth name was James Forman, was known for his artistry in alternative jazz, R&B, and hip hop as well as being involved in politics. 

After attending Pasadena College on a swimming scholarship in 1966 during the Civil Rights Movement, he joined the Black Power Movement and was given the Swahili surname “Mtume,” which translates to messenger or prophet. During this time, he also played with African dance troupes. 

From 1971 to 1975, he toured with Miles Davis as a percussionist. 

Mtume also was featured on albums with other musicians including Duke Ellington on the Flying Dutchman label, Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Roberta Flack on Blue Lights in the Basement, and Lonnie Liston Smith on Astral Traveling.

In the early 1970s, Mtume released three acoustic jazz compositions as his first albums.

He eventually founded the group Mtume by adding singer Tawatha Agee, co-writer Reggie Lucas, bassist Raymond “Ray” Jackson, and keyboardist Phil Fields.

Together they made the #1 R&B chart-topper “Juicy Fruit,” which was later sampled by The Notorious BIG and Keyshiha Cole.

He also created a duo with Lucas and the two won a Grammy Award for best R&B song for writing and producing Stephanie Mills’ 1980 hit “Never Knew Love Like This Before.”

As part of his career, Mtume penned multiple film scores.

Watch the music video for “Juicy Fruit” below: