Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter, producer, and activist, James “Mtume” Forman has reportedly passed away at 76.
Mtume was a percussionist whose music catalog consisted of jazz, contemporary R&B, and disco-club songs. Born as James Forman, James added: “Mtume” to his stage name, meaning “messenger” in Swahili. James received the name Mtume after he joined Hakim Jamal and Maulana Karenga’s US Organization, a Black empowerment group. Mtume saw this as a quintessential name for a singer as he was not afraid to break barriers and deliver messages to all through his musical gifts.
Mtume is most recognized for his 1983 song, “Juicy Fruit,” which was sampled by The Notorious B.I.G for his first single, “Juicy” in 1994.
“Music is a unique art form. I mean all art is special,” he said during his 2019 TedTalk. “But music is unique. It’s the only art form I know that can touch you, but you can’t touch it. What do I mean by that? I can touch a sculpture, I can touch a painting, I can touch a book of poetry. How do you touch a note? How do you touch sound? It runs through your body.”James Mtume Forman grew up in a household where jazz music lived and danced on the walls of his parent’s home. What many don’t know about James is that not only did he learn how to play the piano and percussion, but he also received an athletic scholarship for swimming at Pasadena City College in 1966.
As noted by NBC News, “Mtume’s career began in the 1970s as a percussionist for Freddie Hubbard and Lonnie Liston Smith. He also worked with Miles Davis on several projects and started making his rounds as a songwriter. Therefore, he became the “secret recipe,” for several pivotal R&B singers’ careers, including Duke Ellington, Phyllis Hyman, Teddy Pendergrass and Mary J. Blige“.
Mtume also made a transitioned from a jazz trailblazer to an R&B pioneer as a way to make himself distinct in the music industry. Mtume teamed up with Reggie Lucas and co-wrote Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway’s smash hit, “The Closer I Get to You,” Stephanie Mills’ Billboard Hot 100 hit, “Never Knew Love Like This”, which won a Grammy for best R&B song and best female vocal R&B performance.
At the time of the report, there is no cause of death.
James Mtume Forman is survived by his children Damu Mtume and Fa Mtume.