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James Mtume, jazz and funk drum legend, dead at 76

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James Mtume, a legendary musician who played with greats from Duke Ellington to Miles Davis and was sampled by the Notorious B.I.G., has died He was 76.

No official cause of death has been released, but the Grammy-winning “Juicy Fruit” percussionist’s passing was confirmed by Lisa Lucas, the daughter of Mtume’s longtime creative partner Reggie Lucas.

“So much loss. So much grief. Rest in power to Uncle Mtume,” she wrote Sunday in her Twitter tribute.

“My late fathers partner in crime, the co-creator of the songs of my life (and about my birth!),” Lucas continued. “He was essential part of the life of the man who made me, therefore me too. Gone now. He will be dearly, eternally missed.”

Mtume — which means messenger in Swahiliwas — was born James Forman in Philadelphia in 1946, but changed his professional name after spending time with the black nationalist group US Organization in the 1960s, while studying in Pasadena in California, The Guardian reported.

A pianist and percussionist since his teens, Mtume was soon drawn into the orbit of major mid-century jazz players, beginning with his uncle Albert “Tootie” Heath’s album Kawaida in 1969, which featured Mtume compositions played by a group including Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry and Mtume’s father Jimmy Heath.

Singer James Mtume of the R and B/Soul group Mtume performs onstage at the Hammersmith Odeon on January 27, 1985, in London, England.
Mtume performing with his band at the Hammersmith Odeon on January 27, 1985, in London, England.
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Mtume’s collaboration with Miles Davis began with 1972’s funk-driven “On the Corner.”

His eponymous group Mtume — which ran the gamut from disco to experimental jazz —would later chart a series of No. 1 hits on the Billboard charts. But he is perhaps best-known for the much-sampled 1983 track “Juicy Fruit,” which was sampled for the Notorious B.I.G.’s classic joint “Juicy” in 1994.

Mtume also played on some 80 albums with a host of acclaimed musicians, including Duke Ellington, Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Lonnie Liston Smith and Roberta Flack.

As a songwriter, he scored one of his biggest hits with the Flack and Donny Hathaway songs “The Closer I Get To You” in 1977 and 1979’s “Back Together Again.”

He won his Grammy Award for Stephanie Mills’ hit single “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” for which he was honored for Best R&B Song Writing and Producing in 1980.

“He was so brilliant and an amazing music mind. The work chemistry we had was second to none,” Mills said in a statement upon hearing of Mtume’s death. “I will continue to lift you up through our music.”

Mtume — who was also an on-air personality for NYC’s Kiss-FM radio station — continued to work as a producer in the ’90s and 2000s, earning credits on recordings by R. Kelly, Mary J Blige and K-Ci & JoJo.

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