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James Ingram 1952-2019

Yes, I still play his music on the regular. One of the greatest voices in R&B music has been silenced; James Ingram, 66, died in 2019 after a bout with a rare form of brain cancer but his music lives forever. Silky smooth yet strongly masculine, with a high falsetto and a powerful yet never overriding vibrato, Ingram was a go to choice and best known for duets (many from film soundtracks) he recorded throughout the 80s and 90s.  

He was also a song writer contributing to songs such as "PYT(pretty young thing)" for Michael Jackson. Ingram was a 2-time Grammy award winner, a 2-time Academy Award nominee, and scored 2 #1 hits on the Billboard charts. His 1983 album It's Your Night was certified Gold for selling greater than 500,000 copies in 1984 and he had a prominent verse in the all star charity single We Are the World produced by Ingram's frequent collaborator Quincy Jones. 

Below are 10 of my favorite James Ingram songs.

10. Somewhere Out There

A 1986 duet Ingram recorded with singer Linda Ronstadt for the animated film An American Tail the song is far more remembered than the film and it went all the way to #2 on the Billboard charts. Nominated for 3 Grammys and an Academy Award, Ingram performed the song on national television with legendary r&b star Natalie Cole at the 1987 Oscar Ceremony.

9. Just Once

In 1981, the world got its first listen to the smooth yet powerful voice of James Ingram when he debuted on this Quincy Jones single. Originally recorded as a demo for the songwriters (he was only paid $50) Jones immediately decided he wanted Ingram to sing the song on the album and thus his career begin. Just Once, went to #17 on the Billboard Charts and was nominated for a Grammy award for best male pop performance. Ingram was also nominated for Best New Artist that year, alongside fellow r&b crooner Luther Vandross, but it is Sheena Easton who took home the Grammy. 

8.  When You Love Someone

A 1995 duet with Anita Baker for the film Forget Paris, neither the film nor the song was a major hit yet there is something magical about the pairing of these two r&b voices. Their voices, both instantly distinctive, meld well together and the unique blend creates a wonderfully great love song.

7. How Do We Keep The Music Playing

Ingram's 2nd pairing with jazz virtuoso, Patti Austin, this Academy Award nominated song was the featured single from the Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn film, Best Friends. Yeah, I've never heard of that film either but I love this song.

6. I Don't Have The Heart

Released in 1990, this was Ingram's second #1 hit and his only as a solo artist. This ballad sounds like a love song but the raw emotions displayed by Ingram's emotive performance causes your heart to break even before you know the lyrics. Inexplicable, despite being a #1 hit on the national charts the song was not a hit on the Black charts only going to #53 and there was a competing version released at around the same time by singer Stacy Lattisaw (ultimately her musical swan song) which didn't chart (which when listening to both, Ingram's is clearly superior).  

5. One Hundred Ways

This song is a step by step guide on how to properly romance a potential love interest. Only Ingram's 2nd released song, it was another byproduct of that first demo sent to Quincy Jones for Jones' album The Dude. To fit the romantic nature of the song, Ingram, makes use of his distinctive falsetto in ways not heard in his debut release. Ultimately, the song was a top 20 hit on the pop charts, a top 10 on the r&b charts and won Ingram his first Grammy award. 

4. The Day I Fall In Love 

At first blush the pairing of R&B great James Ingram and country queen Dolly Parton may seem odd but considering Ingram's history of eclectic duet partners and Parton's proven mastery at singing with r&b stars (on duets with the likes of Smokey Robinson, amongst others) these two prove that cross genre duets can create musical magic. Ingram co-wrote this song for the 1993 mega hit film, Beethoven's 2nd and he was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe and a Grammy as a result. 

3. Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite)

An amalgamation of four R&B voices, Ingram, Al B Sure, EL Debarge and Barry White, brought together by Quincy Jones in 1989 for this single from his platinum selling album, Back on the Block. This sexy song pairs Ingram's voice with that of his fellow male r&b stars something we havn't heard him do since he teamed with Michael McDonald for their hit, Yah Mo Be There, in 1983. The combination of all four voices was a winner sending this song to #1 on the R&B Charts and the top 40 of the pop charts, not to mention it is a continued staple of quiet storm radio formats across the country. A great song, the quartet's performance at the 1990 Soul Train Awards is still much talked about.  


2. What About Me

Featuring and written by Kenny Rogers alongside Kim Carnes, this three way love song, (about two men in love with the same woman) sung by three artist each known for recording successful duets (like, Don't Fall in Love with A Dreamer which Rogers and Carnes recorded together) seemed like a perfect lineup but it wasn't the original group of artist chosen to record the song, that distinction belongs to Lionel Richie and Barbara Streisand. For unknown reasons Richie dropped out and so Streisand followed suit. In came Ingram and Carnes, right? No, they were not the second lineup suggested either instead Rogers wanted Olivia Newton-John and Jeffrey Osborne but John began recording a duet with Barry Gibb and did not want to record both simultaneously so she opted out. Osborne meanwhile had a scheduling conflict and the delay made him unavailable. Ultimately it was regular dueters Rogers, Ingram and Carnes who recorded the long planned song and sent it to #1 on the Adult Contemporary Charts, #15 on the pop charts and helped Roger's album of the same name go platinum.     

1. Baby Come to Me

Most of the time I am not a huge fan of an artist's signature song; far to often we leave gems un-turned by only listening to the familiar; This is an exception as Baby Come to me  is a great song and a great duet. Ingram and Austin have voices that compliment each other and they both have significant range but equally hold back to make this a coy and cooing back & forth sexy song as opposed to a full on love power ballad which may have dimmed its reach. This love song which was recorded with Patti Austin was originally released in 1982 and bombed peaking at #72 on the billboard charts. Despite its commercial failure the producers of the soap opera General Hospital discovered the song and used it as the "love theme" for their star character Luke, half of super-couple Luke and Laura. The popularity from General Hospital resulted in the song being re-released where it soared to #1 on the Billboard pop and adult contemporary charts in 1983. The control and blend exercised by both makes this a favorite for me.

REST IN PEACE JAMES INGRAM 1952-2019. Photo Credits: ©   copyright  John Mathew Smith  2001 William Henderson

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