Philadelphia born percussionist James Mtume has done something unique in the music business: he has had a successful career while preserving his integrity. A successful session man, songwriter, bandleader, and producer, Mtume bowed out of the music business in the mid-’80s, when he felt the quality and history of R&B was slipping away, only to return triumphantly to lend his stellar ear and deep knowledge of black music to neo-R&B acts like Mary J. Blige.
Mtume, the son of jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath, first made in-roads into the music business in the early ’70s when he moved from the city of brotherly love to New York. There he met and played with greats such as Freddie Hubbard and Sonnie Rollins, before being asked to join Miles Davis’ touring group as a percussionist. Mtume spent five years with Miles and leveraged the prestigious position to become a session man, playing on Lonnie Liston Smith’s Astral Traveling and Roberta Flack’s Blue Lights In the Basement, among others. It was through Flack that Mtume would meet his eventual songwriting partner and future bandmate. Decamping from Davis’ touring band, the musician hooked up with Flack’s backup group and befriended guitarist Reggie Lucas. With Lucas, Mtume formed a successful songwriting partnership, writing for and guiding the careers of Flack (“The Closer I Get to You”) and budding diva Stephanie Mills (“Never Knew Love Like This Before”)… Read more
In 1978, after nearly a decade as a professional musician, Mtume finally took the plunge and formed his own band, the appropriately named Mtume, along with Lucas, bassist Raymond “Ray” Jackson, singer Tawatha Agee, and keyboardist Phil Fields. The group released several albums throughout the late ’70s and early ’80s and scored a few hits, most notably the raunchy “Juicy Fruit,” but they never found the kind of mainstream success of other Mtume projects. The band eventually broke up in the mid-’80s, with Mtume swearing off the current climate of R&B, awash in sound-a-likes and one hit wonders at that time. Mtume did return in the ’90s, however, producing Mary J. Blige’s 1997 Share My World album and K-Ci and Jo-Jo’s Love Always the same year.
Biography written by Steve Kurutz at AllMusic.com
01 – Mtume – Sais (Rebirth Cycle, 1977)
02 – Mtume Umoja Ensemble – Invocation (Alkebu-Lan – Land Of The Blacks, 1972)
03 – Mtume – So You Wanna Be A Star (In Search Of The Rainbow Seekers, 1980)
04 – Mtume – Prime Time (12 Inch Single, Vocal) (You, Me and He, 1984)
05 – Mtume – Juicy Fruit (12 Inch Single Version) (Juicy Fruit, 1983)
06 – Mtume – You, Me and He (You, Me and He, 1984)
07 – Mtume – Ready For Your Love (Juicy Fruit, 1983)
Background music during the interview:
Mtume – Prime Time (12 Inch Instrumental), John Coltrane – A Love Supreme Pt. 1 Acknowledgement, Miles Davis – Milestones, Mtume – Alkebu Lan, Miles Davis – The Little Blue Frog, Stephanie Mills & Teddy Pendergrass – Two Hearts, Stephanie Mills – What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin’, Mtume – Juicy Fruit (The After 6 Mix, Juicy Fruit Part 2), Mtume – C.O.D. (I’ll Deliver), Mtume – Tie Me Up, Mtume – New Face Deli, Mtume – Breathless