James Ingram--An appreciation
James Ingram's "Just Once"
With hits like 1982’s “Just Once” and “One Hundred Ways,” James Ingram, who died Tuesday at 66, found warm welcome on the pop, R&B and adult contemporary charts.
The 14-time Grammy nominee won Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male for “One Hundred Ways” and Best R&B Performance By a Duo or Group with Vocal for “Yah Mo B There” with Michael McDonald, and in the words of Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow, “was a soulful, chart-topping singer and songwriter [whose] rich voice and masterful songwriting has made a lasting impact on the music industry.”
A frequent collaborator, Ingram worked with the likes of Donna Summer, Ray Charles, Anita Baker, Natalie Cole, Kenny Rogers, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Cliff Richard, Patty Smyth, Nancy Wilson, Barry White. His songwriting credits included Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” with Quincy Jones, and other songs recorded by artists including Ray Charles and the Pointer Sisters. He co-wrote two Oscar-nominated songs, “The Day I Fall in Love” and “Look What Love Has Done.”
Ingram’s breakthrough came with “Just Once,” which like “One Hundred Ways,” was a single from Quincy Jones’ album The Dude. It was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who tweeted, “We knew James was very ill and had been for some time, but knowing he is not here anymore is heartbreaking. He was one of the great voices and one of the finest people in this world.”
Producer Russ Titelman (Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood) recalls hearing Ingram’s demo—with Mann on piano--of “Just Once” while visiting Mann and Weil.
“They played it for me, and I thought it was their best song,” says Titelman. “It was perfect in every way, and I couldn't believe how great the singer was. It was the first time I heard James Ingram.”
Mann and Weil, though, were planning to send the song to another vocalist.
“I knew that Quincy was making a record, so I suggested that they send it to him instead,” continues Titelman. “Quincy got the song and the singer. The rest, as they say, is history.”
Indeed, “James was definitely in the pantheon of the greatest R&B singers ever,” states Titelman. “He had it all: As soon as you heard his voice you were captivated. He was a soul singer like Luther Vandross, Lou Rawls, Michael McDonald and Sam Cooke--but he was also a crooner. There was beauty, heartbreak, sadness, joy and art in every performance. He could have been singing Schubert songs to the same effect.”
And Ingram was also “funny and sharp,” Titelman adds.
“Steve and I were making Back in the High Life in 1986 at Unique Studio in New York, and James was working with [producer] Keith Diamond down the hall. Every time we’d do something on ‘Higher Love’ they’d walk in and yell, ‘That’s a No. 1 record!’ But he could do anything: ‘Just Once,’ ‘Yah Mo B There,’ Michel Legrand’s ‘How Do You Keep the Music Playing?’ When I got the news I went straight to YouTube and put on ‘One Hundred Ways’ and started crying—it’s so beautiful and soulful.”
“And he could play piano!” concludes Titelman. And if that wasn’t all, Ingram, tweeted Sylvers’ member and Shalamar producer, Leon SYlvers IV, “James Ingram played the bass line on Shalamar’s ‘Night to Remember.’”