He is a musician, singer and composer born James Forman in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as the son of the jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath.
He moved to New York in the 1970s and became a percussionist with Miles Davis for 5 years before becoming a band leader for Strata East as well as playing as a session artist and appearing on albums by artists that include Heath Brothers, Herbie Hancock and Roberta Flack, who he met Reggie Lucas through when he became part of her backing group.
They became a songwriting partnership, writing songs that included the hits “The Closer I Get to You” and “Never Knew Love Like This Before”, which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song.
In 1978 he formed the group Mtume where he was vocalist, keyboardist and percussionist. They released several albums and are best known for their hit single “Juicy Fruit”. The band broke up in the mid-1980s and he dropped out of the scene for a while.
In the 1980s he produced for people including Stephanie Mills, Roy Ayers, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway and since returning in the 1990s he produced for artists that include Mary J. Blige and K-Ci and Jo-Jo.
In 2018 he took out a lawsuit against Sony Music/Epic Records to reclaim the rights to “Juicy Fruit” and two albums.
Stephanie Mills recordings
Never Knew Love Like This Before (James Mtume/Reggie Lucas)
Still Mine (James Mtume/Reggie Lucas)
Juicy Fruit (James Mtume)
Juicy Fruit Part II (Reprise)(James Mtume)