Ohio native James Ingram first received minor attention in the late 70s as part of the band Revelation Funk and served as pianist for the legendary Ray Charles. But it was a 1980 demo tape on which he sang that became his unexpected career boost. He cut the demo of "Just Once," a Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil composition that was being delivered to Quincy Jones for possible inclusion on Jones's landmark The Dude album. Jones not only liked the song, he liked the singer on the tape and invited Ingram to provide the vocals to both "Just Once" and "One Hundred Ways" on The Dude. Of course, The Dudebecame an international smash and both Ingram cuts rocketed up the pop, soul and adult contemporary charts, ultimately landing Ingram a performance at that year's Grammy Awards as well as the trophy for best R&B vocal performance.
Ingram's debut album, It's Your Night, was released to great anticipation, and it didn't disappoint. Led off by the smash duet with Michael McDonald, "Yah Mo Be There," Night was perhaps the best soul album of 1983 and boasted the most beautiful ballad of that year, "There's No Easy Way." Most of that album was also included on Ingram's 1991 greatest hits disc, The Power of Great Music, a nearly essential collection of romantic 80s soul music.
Over the course of the next decade, Ingram's career took an odd direction, as he became known almost exclusively as an adult contemporary duet artist. He consistently hit the charts in duets with Patti Austin ("Baby Come To Me," "How Do You Keep The Music Playing"), Linda Ronstadt ("Somewhere Out There"), Dolly Parton ("The Day I Fell In Love"), Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes ("What About Me"), and Barry White, Al B. Sure and El Debarge (on Quincy Jones's "Secret Garden"), but his solo recordings fell flat. Whether due to a lack of consistently top notch material or to misguided promotional direction by his label, Ingram was a wonderful singer caught somewhere between soul and adult contemporary music, but without a sufficiently strong fan base in either group to support his solo recording career. He broke his drought in 1990, taking the Thom Bell-produced ballad "I Don't Have the Heart" to number one, but never again had a major hit.
After a six year hiatus, Ingram released Forever More: The Best of James Ingram in 1999, which included re-recordings of some of his biggest hits along with some lesser new material. He also appeared as a guest vocalist on Michael McDonald's excellent In the Spirit holiday album in 2001. Ingram has continued to provide guest vocals for a number of artists and has been a regular participant in the "Colors of Christmas" concerts with Peabo Bryson, Roberta Flack and others. He's also occasionally penned material for other artists such as Phil Perry and Brian McKnight.
Ingram spent most of the early 21st century devoting his time to his family. He also performed regularly in Los Angeles and appeared in spot dates elsewhere. He remained active as a writer, teaming with dancer Debbie Allen to create seven plays, including the noted musical Brothers of the Night. He also became an active athlete, crediting his continued good health to a daily regiment of running, push ups, pull ups and stretching, which he said "keeps my respiratory system going."
While performing with Gospel harpist Jeff Majors, Ingram sang a composition he wrote called "Mercy." It won over the audience and sparked his interest in releasing an entire Gospel album. Beginning in early 2007, Ingram began recording Standing (In The Light), his first full inspirational album. The title track was inspired by his emotions as he observed on television the tragic results of Hurricane Katrina. The album was ultimately released in 2009 to moderate reviews. He played a series of dates to support the album and continues to stay busy in the wake of its release.
By Chris Rizik