James Ingram | Biography, Songs, Hits, & Cause of Death (2024)

American singer and songwriter

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Article History

James Ingram

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Born:
February 16, 1952, Akron, Ohio, U.S.
Died:
January 29, 2019, Los Angeles, California (aged 66)
Awards And Honors:
Grammy Award (1984)
Grammy Award (1981)

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James Ingram (born February 16, 1952, Akron, Ohio, U.S.—died January 29, 2019, Los Angeles, California) was an American rhythm and blues (R&B) singer and songwriter whose rich, deep voice served as backup for prominent artists such as Quincy Jones, Patti Austin, Michael McDonald, the Pointer Sisters, and Michael Jackson. His high-profile collaborations enabled Ingram to win his first Grammy Award even before releasing an album of his own.

Ingram was the third of six children born to Alistine (née Wilson) Ingram, who worked as a nurse’s aide, and Henry Ingram, a deacon in the Church of God in Christ, Inc. (COGIC), in Akron, Ohio. As a child Ingram spent much of his time at church. His family was musically inclined, and his eldest brother, Henry, Jr., was a church minister of music whose performances were often broadcast on local radio. At the time, Henry, Jr., would not teach his young siblings to play piano—“we’d sit down and start banging,” Ingram later recalled—but Ingram was motivated to learn. He taught himself to play piano, synthesizer, drums, bass, and guitar. In high school he played football and ran track and field during the day. He performed with his band, Revelation Funk, at night.

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In the early 1970s Ingram and his band were the opening act for the Ohio Players, and together the two bands relocated to Los Angeles in 1973. After two years the other members of his band returned to Ohio, while Ingram remained in Los Angeles. He struggled to make ends meet by singing and playing backup for various artists, one of whom was legendary pianist and singer Ray Charles. Ingram played organ on Charles’s 1977 hit single “I Can See Clearly Now.” Meanwhile, that same year, Ingram’s youngest brother, Phillip, became a founding member of Switch, an R&B band that signed with Motown.

Although Ingram did not consider himself a good vocalist at the time, he also earned money by singing on demo tapes for a music publishing company. Acclaimed musician and producer Quincy Jones heard Ingram’s voice on a demo tape for “Just Once” and found his smooth and gospel-trained baritone to be perfect for R&B. Impressed, Jones asked Ingram to record vocals for three tracks on his 1981 album The Dude: “Just Once,” “The Dude,” and “One Hundred Ways,” the last of which brought Ingram his first Grammy, for best R&B vocal performance, in 1982.

Over the next few years Ingram scored a series of hits. His duet with singer Patti Austin, “Baby, Come to Me” (1982), jumped to the top of the charts in 1983 after it was recurrently featured on the television soap opera General Hospital. In the same year Ingram recorded the Oscar-nominated “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” for the feature film Best Friends. In 1983 Ingram released his debut solo album, the Jones-produced It’s Your Night. It earned Ingram a gold record and a Grammy Award for his duet with singer Michael McDonald on “Yah Mo B There.” He also collaborated with Jones in writing the hit single “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” from Michael Jackson’s blockbuster album Thriller (1983).

In the mid-1980s Ingram continued to receive more accolades for his collaborative work than for his solo efforts. His recording of “What About Me?” with singers Kim Carnes and Kenny Rogers was a big hit in 1984. Along with an all-star lineup of celebrity vocalists, Ingram contributed a solo to the charity single “We Are the World” in 1985. In 1986 he released his second album, Never Felt So Good, which was not as well received as his debut. The following year Ingram rebounded with a huge hit when he recorded the Oscar-nominated, Grammy-winning single “Somewhere Out There” with singer Linda Ronstadt for the animated film An American Tail (1986). The song reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1987.

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In the late 1980s Ingram left Jones and his Qwest label to work with producer Thom Bell at Warner Brothers Records. Their initial collaboration produced Ingram’s first number-one hit, “I Don’t Have the Heart,” from Ingram’s album It’s Real (1990). His next release was The Power of Great Music (1991), a greatest-hits collection. Always You (1993) includes the single “Sing for the Children,” the theme song of the Children’s Defense Fund, for which Ingram served as spokesman. Ingram was nominated for best original song Oscars for two songs that he cowrote: “The Day I Fall in Love,” from the movie Beethoven’s 2nd, in 1993, and “Look What Love Has Done,” from Junior, in 1994. Both songs were also nominated for Golden Globes. After a long pause in his recording career, Ingram released a gospel album, Stand (In the Light), in 2008.

Ingram continued to perform into the 2010s and filled venues internationally. At the end of the decade, however, he died after a battle with brain cancer.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia BritannicaThis article was most recently revised and updated by Encyclopaedia Britannica.

James Ingram | Biography, Songs, Hits, & Cause of Death (2024)

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