One of world’s most revered R&B musicians James Ingram passed away on Tuesday in Los Angeles aged 66. He leaves behind a music legacy that speaks for itself, writes Elly Gitau
Through the 1980s and 90s, American R&B, pop and soul singer, songwriter, performer, music producer and instrumentalist James Edward Ingram was one of the genre’s biggest stars and one of world’s most iconic musicians. Growing up as an ardent music lover, one of my biggest wishes was to have an opportunity to just meet him.
That dream came true on a bright Wednesday morning of September 26, 2012. Ingram was in Kenya for a concert that was held the following weekend at Kasarani Indoor Arena, Nairobi. Tickets were announced ‘sold-out’ by that Thursday. That is when it hit me that I wasn’t the only one who literally adored Ingram’s music.
On the concert day, Saturday, September 29, 2012, the venue was full to capacity by 7pm. Thousands of Ingram’s music including then presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and his wife Margaret Kenyatta packed the arena and eagerly waited for the legendary music maker to hit the stage.
And when he did at around 7.40pm, the crowd roared with excitement as the two-time Grammy Award winner ascended to the stage while belting out one of his greatest hits, Just Once.
What followed was an unrivalled and thrilling three-hour performance from the then 60-year-old musician.
And he executed his business on the stage with so much energy and excellence for a person his age.
It was a feel-good moment. At some point, Ingram descended the stage to mingle with his fans, as he belted out hit after hit of his endless ballads.
The list featured songs such as Always, Party Animal, Baby Come To Me, Better Way, I Don’t Have the Heart, Give me Forever, There’s No easy Way and She Loves Me. “I have always loved to perform in Africa and in Kenya to be specific.
For these few days I have been around, I have fallen in love with the Kenyan people, especially their heart-warming hospitality,” Ingram told me during an interview at Tribe Hotel.
Besides intimating to me that his hearing sense was fast disappearing, Ingram talked with passion about how music meant to him, including growing up in Ohio, moving to Los Angeles, California and working with the band, ‘Revelation Funk’.
Probably one of his biggest achievements and fondest memories was his “special” working relationship with another legendary record producer and musician, Quincy Jones.
Literally, during the interview, Ingram lacked enough words to describe Quincy, his 80-time Grammy Award nominee mentor. “He was the man who made me what I am. I have mad respect for him. I just don’t know what to say,” Ingram said. Unfortunately, the legend breathed his last on Tuesday at his Los Angeles home, losing the battle to brain cancer, aged 66.
In 1981, Ingram provided the vocals to hit songs Just Once and One Hundred Ways on Quincy Jones’s album The Dude, which earned him triple Grammy nominations, including Best New Artiste.
One Hundred Ways won him the Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. Ingram also worked with other notable artistes such as Stevie Wonder, Donna Summer, Ray Charles, Anita Baker, Viktor Lazlo, Nancy Wilson, Natalie Cole and Kenny Rogers.
In October 1990, he scored a Number One hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with the love ballad I Don’t Have the Heart, from his It’s Real album. In 1985, he won a Grammy for his hit Yah Mo B There, a duet with Michael McDonald. He also teamed up with country singer Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes for the Top 40 ballad What About Me? in 1984. In 1985, he participated in the charity single We Are the World.
The song was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and produced by Quincy Jones and recorded by United Support of Artists (USA) for Africa in 1985.
With sales in excess of 20 million copies, the proceeds were used to help Ethiopia cope with a ravaging famine in 1985. In an illustrious career spanning four decades, Ingram managed to churn five studio albums and two compilation albums.
The studio albums were It’s Your Night, Never Felt So Good, It’s Real, Always You and Stand. He compiled Greatest Hits: The Power of Great Music and Forever More (Love Songs, Hits & Duets). He was also featured in films such as The Fearless Four in 1997, Suburgatory in 2012 and The Two Wedding in 2016.
President Uhuru Kenyatta eulogised Ingram as a gifted musician who used his God-given talent to spread messages of peace, love and coexistence with a view to making the world a better place for all.
“James Ingram was a true gift from God to the world, and especially those of us who love and enjoy R&B music. James had an amazing voice, his compositions gave many hope and his music will forever remain a lasting reminder of the great musician he was,” he said.
“There are no words to convey how much my [heart] aches with the news of the passing of my baby brother, James Ingram. With that soulful, whisky sounding voice, James was simply magical. He was, & always will be, beyond compare. Rest In Peace my baby bro…You’ll be in my [heart] forever,” Quincy Jones wrote on his twitter handle.
“Today, I celebrate the life of James Ingram. His unmistakable voice and songwriting genius set a standard of excellence for me… James Ingram paved the way for me to sing love songs with intent and authenticity,” wrote R&B singer Kenny Lattimore. May his soul Rest In Peace.