Chris Rizik, of Soul Tracks, wrote a great review of Ingram’s career, which I have included in this post, in addition to my own thoughts. Click on the “Soul Tracks” hyperlink, to see Chris’ well-done, original article.
Ohio native James Ingram first received minor attention in the late 70’s as part of the band Revelation Funk.
However, 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. “Just Once” was also featured in the film, “The Last American Virgin.” 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.
I remember when “Just Once’ was released, I purchased it as a 45 single, knew nothing about Ingram, wondered who had this great, smooth voice for ballads, and was thrilled when “One Hundred Ways” was also released as a 45, so I bought that, too. His voice is perfect for ballads. 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 Grammy Award 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 the 1983 and boasted the most beautiful ballad of that year, "There's No Easy Way." “How Do You Keep The Music Playing,” with Patti Austin, is also from this album. Most of that album was also included on Ingram's 1991 greatest hits disc, The Power of Great Music, which is an essential album for any soul music lover.
In 1988, Ingram released “Never Felt So Good,” which did not contain any known hits. His next release, in 1989, was “It’s Real,” containing the hit, “I Don’t Have The Heart,” as well as a hidden gem, that never became a hit. “When Was The Last Time Music Made You Cry” is the type of ballad where the lyrics grab you, and Ingram’s performance makes time stop when I hear this. To my knowledge, this song was never released as a single, so you may never have heard this. If you have “It’s Real,” please try “When Was The Last Time Music Made You Cry.”
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").
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.
1991 featured the release of “The Greatest Hits: The Power of Great Music” which was a compilation of hits, including for the first time, the song that plays during the closing credits of the movie, “City Slickers,” titled, “Where Did My Heart Go ?,” another brilliant ballad for Ingram, and another song featured in a movie, as well as “Just Once.”
His next release, in 1993, was “Always You,” which did not contain any known hits.
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, including covers of “I Believe I Can Fly,” and “My Funny Valentine.” He also appeared as a guest vocalist on Michael McDonald's 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 recently wrote a children's musical with dancer Debbie Allen called Brothers of the Night. Ingram has formed Intering Records for future projects.
James Ingram is one of my favorite artists, because he performs ballads so beautifully. His vocals grab your attention, hold it while you listen to him tell some great love stories, and by the end of his ballads, you are relaxed, with a clear mind, happy to have just listened to such beautiful music. He's the type of artist who can turn a stressful day into a pleasure, by "unwinding" from listening to his music.