James Mtume, Grammy-winning jazz artist, dead at 76

James Mtume performing with Mtume at Madison Square Garden in New York City on September 16, 1983. (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

Grammy-winning songwriter James Mtume has passed away at the age of 76.

His family announced that he died on Sunday.

Mtume had pursued training as a scholarship swimmer while attending Pasadena City College and was recruited for the 1968 Olympics but decided to instead take a different direction and joined the Cultural Nationalist Organization US. It was during this time that he’d taken the namesake of Mtume (Swahili for "messenger").

In the early 1970s, Mtume shifted towards music as a percussionist who went on to tour and record with Miles Davis.

Mtume would eventually record with his own group the Mtume Umoja Ensemble as well as on sessions with Duke Ellington, McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Rollins, and other jazz greats.

By the mid-late 1970s with longtime musical partner Reggie Lucas, Mtume forged a path combining soul, jazz and funk (he called it "Sophistifunk"). The result was a slew of hit productions with Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway ("The Closer I Get to You", "Back Together Again"), Phyllis Hyman ("You Know How to Love Me"), and Stephanie Mills ("Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin’".

He won a Grammy for "Never Knew Love Like This Before" in 1981.

In the early 1980s, Mtume formed the group that bore his namesake and created five best-selling albums as well as eleven R&B hits, including the #1 multiplatinum smash "Juicy Fruit" (1982) and the Top 3 hit "You, Me and He" (1984). It was during this time that Mtume took his "Sophistifunk" sound and combined it with the emerging technology of drum machines and synthesizers.

By the 1990s, Mtume made his way into the world of soundtracks, creating music for films such as scoring for the film "Native Son" and served as the music supervisor for the television series "New York Undercover."

He also co-hosted WBLS-FM’S community talk series Open Line for eighteen years.

James Mtume is survived by his wife Kamili Mtume; brother Jeffrey Forman; sons Faulu Mtume, Richard Johnson; daughters Benin Mtume, Eshe King, Ife Mtume, Sanda Lee; grandchildren Sukari Mtume, Yamani Mtume, Craig McCargo, Mazi Mtume, Aya Mtume, Jhasi Mtume.