Two-time Grammy winner James Ingram, whose signature timbre instantly evokes the classic R&B sound of the 1980s, has died. He was 66.
Ingram’s passing was announced on Twitter by the actress Debbie Allen. “I have lost my dearest friend and creative partner James Ingram to the Celestial Choir,” she wrote. “He will always be cherished, loved and remembered for his genius, his love of family and his humanity. I am blessed to have been so close.”
When he was 18, Ingram joined a band called Revelation Funk and tried to make it in Los Angeles, the Chicago Tribune reported in a 2012 profile. Comparing himself to his bandmates, Ingram underestimated his own vocal abilities. “I knew I couldn’t sing,” he said. “I wasn’t trying. I was just doing background.”
After the band broke up, Ingram stayed in L.A. and got great backup gigs, working with Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye. He would sing and write demos at a studio on Sunset Boulevard for $50 per song. The studio had a relationship with veteran producer Quincy Jones, who heard Ingram’s recording of “Just Once.” Jones, impressed, called Ingram.
“I hung up on Quincy,” he told the Tribune. “I was never no singer. I never shopped a deal, none of that. My wife said, ‘James, that was Quincy.’ He called back, and we started talking. I said, ‘Yeah, that’s me.’ He put that on his album.”
That was the moment Ingram was saved from “side-gig obscurity,” writes the New York Times. Ingram ended up singing that song and “One Hundred Ways” on Jones’s 1981 album, “The Dude.” Both songs ended up on the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100.
Ingram’s performance of “One Hundred Ways” won him the Grammy in 1981 for best male R&B performance. In 1984 he won his second Grammy, for “Yah Mo B There” with singer Michael McDonald. He also had two number one hits: “Baby Come to Me” in 1983, which he sang with Patti Austin; and “I Don’t Have the Heart” in 1990. Throughout his career, Ingram was nominated for 14 Grammys.
Ingram was especially in demand as a collaborator, co-writing the Michael Jackson hit “P.Y.T.” and enjoying cross-over appeal with Linda Ronstadt. With Ronstadt, he added his soulful rendition of “Somewhere Out There” to the ending credits of the movie “An American Tail.”
While Ingram’s cause of death has not been formally announced, the entertainment news outlet TMZ reports the singer died after a long battle with brain cancer.
“There are no words to convey how much my heart aches with the news of the passing of my baby brother,” Jones wrote on Twitter. “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.”