James Ingram, soulful singer helped shape the sound of R&B


Soulful baritone James Ingram helped define the sound of R&B in the 1980s. iSingmag looks back at his incredible career.

James Ingram, who died this week at the age of 66, was a pioneer of “quiet storm” R&B, a jazz-inspired sound that was radio-friendly and romantic, languorous and seductive.

Vocally Ingram had the ability to seamlessly merge smoothness and precision with power and emotion. Legendary producer Quincy Jones says: “Every beautiful note that James sang pierced your essence and comfortably made itself at home.”

It was Jones who gave Ingram his first big break. After cutting his teeth singing in nightclubs in his home state of Ohio, Ingram moved to LA at the age of 18 to pursue a music career. He made ends meet by working as a backing vocalist for stars including Ray Charles until Jones heard him singing.

Recognising the magic in Ingram’s voice, Jones took him under his wing. It was the start of a long professional partnership and friendship. (After news of Ingram’s death this week Jones referred to him as “his baby brother”).

Throughout the 1980s Ingram enjoyed a string of hits (eight reached the top ten). These included: Baby, Come to Me and I Don’t Have The Heart.

His 1986 duet with Linda Ronstadt, Somewhere Out There, from the film An American Tail was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe.

Along with the likes of Luther Vandross and Grover Washington Junior, Ingram personified “quiet storm”. But as this brand of easy listening R&B became less fashionable over time, he gravitated to songwriting and collaborated with the likes of Kenny Rogers, The Pointer Sisters, George Benson, Dolly Parton, Anita Baker and Patty Smith.

He also worked closely with Jones: together the pair wrote Michael Jackson’s hit song PYT (Pretty Young Thing).

Ingram was nominated for 14 Grammys and won two: best male R&B in 1982 for One Hundred Ways and best R’n’B performance by a duo or group, for Yah Mo B There.

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