James Ingram spent the early part of his career supporting artists like Ray Charles and Leon Haywood. Then, in 1980, Quincy Jones heard him perform a demo of Just Once. Jones liked what he heard and invited Ingram to contribute vocals to his 1981 album, The Dude. The invite earned Ingram a trio of Grammy Award nominations and put him on the first step of what would become a hugely successful and influential solo career. Best known for possessing what Quincy Jones described as a “soulful, whiskey-sounding voice,” Ingram passed away in 2019 at the age of just 66. Here, we look back on some of his finest moments with our pick of the 10 best James Ingram songs of all time.
10. The Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite) (with Quincy Jones, Al B. Sure!, El DeBarge, and Barry White)
In at number one on our list of the 10 best James Ingram songs of all time is The Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite). Produced by Quincy Jones and featuring extra support from Al B. Sure!, El DeBarge, and Barry White, the song was hugely successful, climbing to number 1 on the Billboard Black Singles chart and number 31 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also a moderate hit in the UK, reaching number 26 on the charts.
9. What About Me? (with Kenny Rogers & Kim Carnes)
Kenny Rogers had originally intended Barbara Streisand and Lionel Richie to join him on What About Me? but after both singers backed out, he asked Olivia Newton-John and Jeffrey Osborne to join him instead. When they backed out as well, he called on James Ingram and Kim Carnes. The result was a number 15 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and a number one chart-topper on the Adult Contemporary chart.
8. I Just Can’t Let Go (with David Pack & Michael McDonald)
David Pack, Michael McDonald, and James Ingram first recorded I Just Can’t Let Go in 1986, reaching number 18 on the US. Billboard Adult Contemporary in the fall of that year. Following Ingram’s death in 2019, Pack created a video in tribute to his friend, re-mixing the original recording, restoring the trio’s vocals, and using them as an a cappella intro.
7. How Do You Keep the Music Playing? (with Patti Austin)
1984 was a good year for Ingram, at least from an awards perspective. At that year’s Grammy’s, he picked up three nominations, the first for Best R&B Song for Michael Jackson’s P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing), which Ingram co-wrote with Quincey Jones, the second for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for Party Animal, and the third for his duet with Patti Austin, How Do You Keep the Music Playing?
6. Somewhere Out There ( with Linda Ronstadt )
In 1986, Ingram and Linda Ronstadt earned a massive hit with this track from the soundtrack of An American Tail. Written by hitmakers James Horner, Barry Mann, and Cynthia Weil, the song reached number 2 in both the US and Canada, number 6 in Ireland, and number 8 in the UK. At the 30th Grammy Awards, it swept the board, winning both Song of the Year and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television. It also picked up an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song, but lost out to Take My Breath Away from Top Gun.
5. Just Once
As culturesonar.com explains, Quincy Jones, who collaborated with Ingram on multiple occasions throughout his career, discovered him after hearing him sing a demo of the gorgeously romantic Just Once from songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Jones invited him to contribute vocals to the song for his album, The Dude, which subsequently helped Ingram pick up three Grammy nominations, including one for Best New Artist.
4. One Hundred Ways
As well as contributing vocals to Just Once on Quincy Jones’ 1981 album The Dude, Ingram also took the lead on the gorgeously sultry One Hundred Ways. The song hit number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 5 on the Adult Contemporary chart, as well as picking up the award for Best R&B Vocal Performance at the 1982 Grammys.
3. Yah Mo B There (with Michael McDonald)
Ingram teamed up with Michael McDonald several times over his career. In 1983, the pair partnered up on Yah Mo B There for Ingram’s 1983 album, It’s Your Night. It became a big hit, climbing to number 19 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 12 on the UK Singles Chart, and picking up the 1985 Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
2. I Don’t Have the Heart
In 1990, Ingram topped the charts with this soulful love ballad from his 1989 album, It’s Real. It was his first number one as a solo artist (his previous time at the top had been with Patti Austin on Baby, Come to Me), as well as the final time he’d make a visit to the top 40. At the following year’s Grammy Awards, he picked up a nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for the song.
1. Baby, Come to Me
Written by Rod Temperton and performed alongside Patti Austin, Baby, Come to Me became Ingram’s first big success. Initially released in 1982, it proved only a minor hit the first time around, stalling at number 73 on the Billboard Hot 100. A few months later, it connected with a whole new audience when it popped up on General Hospital – sensing they might have more luck the second time, the record label reissued it, resulting in the first number one hit of Ingram’s career.