On This Day in 2019: Singer James Ingram dies at age 66

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    January 29, 2019 – Singer James Ingram dies at age 66

    Most fans didn’t know, but James Ingram had been silently suffering from brain cancer and cognitive difficulties for some time, resulting in his tragic death on January 29, 2019 at the too young age of 66. Ingram had been a staple on the pop and soul charts since his unlikely emergence in the early 1980s, and his death made a lot of us immediately feel both sadder and a bit older.

    January 29, 2019 – Singer James Ingram dies at age 66

    Most fans didn’t know, but James Ingram had been silently suffering from brain cancer and cognitive difficulties for some time, resulting in his tragic death on January 29, 2019 at the too young age of 66. Ingram had been a staple on the pop and soul charts since his unlikely emergence in the early 1980s, and his death made a lot of us immediately feel both sadder and a bit older.

    An Ohio native, Ingram first received 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 Dude became 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 was highlighted by the achingly beautiful ballad, "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 unusual 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 struggled to find an audience. 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.

    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 recorded sporadically (last issuing the gospel album Standing (In The Light) in 2009), and 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, including a daily regimen of running, push ups, pull ups and stretching, and even participated in a marathon.

    Ingram continued to perform regularly on tours, but reportedly struggled with cognitive issues over his last few years, preventing him from reaching as many fans as his enviable career would have warranted. Even now as we look back, James Ingram is remembered as a talented, very good man with a golden voice that graced dozens of songs that will remain a part of the soul canon for generations to come.

    By Chris Rizik

     
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