James Mtume

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James Mtume
Birth name James Forman
Also known as Mtume
Born (1946-03-27) March 27, 1946 (age 72)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Genres R&B, soul, post-disco, funk, quiet storm, smooth soul, hip hop, electro, jazz
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter, radio personality, composer, record producer, instrumentalist, musician
Instruments Vocals, percussionist, piano, keyboards, sampler, drums, guitar, bass guitar,
Years active 1961–present
Labels Columbia (1972–76), various (1977–present)
Associated acts Reggie Lucas, Mtume, Phyllis Hyman, Stephanie Mills, Miles Davis, Jimmy Heath, Eddie Henderson, Mary J. Blige, R. Kelly, Gato Barbieri

James Forman (born March 27, 1946), better known by his stage name James Mtume, is an American Grammy Award-winning R&B musician, songwriter, activist and radio personality.

He came to prominence working with Miles Davis between 1971 and 1975. Mtume's group, also called Mtume, is best known for the 1983 R&B hit song "Juicy Fruit", which has been much sampled. Mtume the band also had a top-five R&B hit with the single "You, Me, and He".

Early life and career[edit]

James Forman, born and raised in South Philadelphia. He is the son of jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath,[1] however he was raised by his stepfather, a Philadelphia local jazz pianist, James "Hen Gates" Forman.

Mtume grew up in a musical environment with famous jazz musicians frequenting his parents' house. He learned to play piano and percussion; however, from his teenage years he was pursuing athletics as a swimmer, having achieved the title of the first black Middle Atlantic AAU champion in the backstroke, and in 1966 he entered Pasadena City College on a swimming scholarship.[1]

In 1966 Mtume joined the US Organization, a Black empowerment group founded by Hakim Jamal and Maulana Karenga, while student at Pasadena City College. Mtume received his name, which means "messenger" in Swahili, from Karenga who gave members of the organisation names to match their personality traits.[2] He was part of that group that celebrated the first Kwanzaa in 1966. In 1967 he co-edited The Quotable Karenga with Clyde Halisi, which has been called "the best expression of Karenga's ideas".[3] Mtume left the US Organisation in 1969.[4]

Mtume made two albums, Kawaida and Alekebulan: Land of the Blacks, intended to merge jazz and cultural identity.[5] Kawaida, which was recorded in December 1969, was Mtume professional debut. He contributed four out of five compositions and was credited with naming the album which mean "tradition" in Swahili and represented the practise and philosopy of pan-African identity. Performers on the album included Don Cherry, Herbie Hancock, Biily Bonner and his uncle Albert Heath.[6]

After his return from the West Coast he moved to New York to pursue musician's vocation and had his first gigs as a sideman for McCoy Tyner (Asante album), Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis, whose group he wound up joining and playing in for the next few years.[7]

He and Mtume band member, fellow musician Reggie Lucas both won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song for writing and producing fellow R&B artist Stephanie Mills' top-ten hit "Never Knew Love Like This Before", for which she also won a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.

He has also worked as a session musician with Players Association, and has done on-air radio personality work at New York City's KISS 98.7 FM.[8] As a songwriter, Mtume has written hits for various artists such as Phyllis Hyman, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, Stephanie Mills, R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, Teddy Pendergrass, Inner City, as well as being lead songwriter for his own band Mtume.

In July 2018, Mtume filed a lawsuit against Sony Music/Epic Records, hoping to reclaim the rights for two albums and his hit single "Juicy Fruit". Mtume claims to be the sole copyright of these recordings, while Sony insists that the albums were made for hire.[9]

Personal life[edit]

He is the father of music producers Damu Mtume and Fa Mtume.[10]


As leader[edit]

  • Alkebu-Lan: Land of The Blacks (1972, Strata-East Records) - with Mtume Umoja Ensemble (Carlos Garnett- Tenor & Flute, Leroy Jenkins-Violin, Gary Bartz,- Alto and Soprano Sax, Stanley Cowell-Piano, Buster Williams- Bass, Billy Hart- Drums, and Joe Lee Wilson, Eddie Micheaux, and Andy Bey- Vocals. Yusef Iman and Weusi Kuumba -Poets.
  • Rebirth Cycle (1977 Third Street Records) - with Jean Carn, Stanley Cowell, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jimmy Heath, Cecil McBee, Leroy Jenkins, and Azar Lawrence.
  • Kiss This World Goodbye (1978) - with Mtume
  • In Search of the Rainbow Seekers (1980) - with Mtume
  • Juicy Fruit (1983)- with Mtume
  • You, Me and He (1984)- with Mtume
  • Theater of the Mind (1986) - with Mtume

As sideman[edit]

With Gato Barbieri

With Miles Davis

With Art Farmer

With Carlos Garnett

With Jimmy Heath

With Eddie Henderson

with Harold Land

With Azar Lawrence

With The Piano Choir With McCoy Tyner

With Buddy Terry


"The Closer I Get to You" written with Reggie Lucas. Performed by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway on Blue Lights in the Basement. Atlantic Records, 1977.[11]


External links[edit]