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James Ingram

By Vanessa Obioha

To veteran music producer Quincy Jones, James Ingram was a younger brother in the music industry. He described his voice as a soulful whisky sounding voice that was magical in a tweet Wednesday on hearing the news of the singer’s death.

Indeed it was that magical voice that endeared him to Jones when the latter heard Ingram’s demo recording of the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil song ‘Just Once’.

Captivated by the suppleness of Ingram’s voice, Jones picked the singer who was a former member of an Akron band, Revelation Funk, to be one of the vocalists on his album ‘The Dude’ (1981). Jones would later re-record ‘Just Once’ with Ingram. The song reached No 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. The following year saw the song featured in the film ‘The Last American Virgin’.

From that same album came another hit song ‘100 Ways’, which earned the singer his first Grammy award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1982. The song reached No 14 in the US Chart. His second Grammy win in 1985 was for his duet with Michael McDonald for the single ‘Yah Mo B There’ which was nominated in Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group.

Ingram’s career took a big leap once Jones signed him to his Qwest record label. Prior to that, Ingram worked as a solo performer in R&B clubs in Los Angeles when the Revelation Funk couldn’t hit any milestone. Those performances paid off later as he was recruited to play keyboards and sing backing vocals for Ray Charles. Ingram also worked as a demo singer for the ATV music publishing company, being paid $50 per song.

Under Jones label, Ingram flexed his musical prowess, particularly in the songwriting department. He penned down songs for music stars of that era such as the notable P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) for the late pop legend, Michael Jackson, Natalie Cole, and Kenny Rogers, Donna Summer among others.

Passionate about R&B and jazz music right from an early age, he soon became the perfect partner for soulful ballads. Singers like Patti Austin featured him in her songs, notably the 1983 ‘Baby Come to Me’ which peaked at No 1 in the US Chart after it was featured in a TV Soap ‘General Hospital’. Their second collaborative effort was ‘How Do You Keep the Music Playing’ which earned the duo an Oscar nomination in 1982 as the song was featured in the film ‘Best Friends’.

As his collaborations with other artistes became popular, Ingram songs were ideal for most films. One of his popular tracks with Linda Ronstadt, ‘Somewhere Out There’ was the theme for the famous animated film ‘An American Tail’. The song fetched Ingram his first top 10 feature in the U.K. Chart. It was No 2 in the US. The song was awarded the 1987 Grammy Award for Song of the Year. It also received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. It was one of the last million-selling Gold-certified 45 RPM singles to be issued by the RIAA .

Ingram co-wrote ‘Don’t Make Me No Never Mind’ with Jones and Roy Gaines for Steven Spielberg’s film The Color Purple (1985). His duet with Dolly Parton ‘The Day I Fall in Love’ for the 1993 film ‘Beethoven’s 2nd’ earned him an Oscar nod for Best Original Song. The following year, he joined forces with Anita Baker for the movie ‘Junior’ where they performed ‘Look What Love Has Done’. The duo performed another duet ‘When You Love Someone’, for the movie ‘Forget Paris’ in 1995.

He also wrote ‘One More Time’ for the movie Sarafina, and from City Slickers came ‘Where Did My Heart Go?’. In 1991, he and Melissa Manchester performed the song ‘The Brightest Star’ in the animated Christmas film ‘Precious Moments Timmy’s Gift’.

Throughout his lifetime, Ingram who was born in Akron, Ohio on February 16, 1952, and was one of six children of Henry Ingram, a church deacon, and his wife, Alistine, stayed true to his R&B roots. He had five solo albums with the first released in 1983 (It’s Your Night) and the last, a gospel album (Stand In the Light) released in 2008.

Ingram reportedly died of brain cancer on Tuesday, January 29, 2019. He is survived by his wife, Debbie, whom he married in 1975, and their six children.