Keep the Music Playing: James Ingram's Best Songs

James Ingram in 1990
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Tim McCleary/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

"If Quincy Jones thinks I can sing, then I guess I must be able to sing," James Ingram once said, in one of the greatest understatements of all time. The late musician could and did sing, illuminating the charts in the '80s and '90s with his passionate voice, often paired with powerful duet partners.

If you're looking for "One Hundred Ways" to appreciate Ingram's artistry, we're happy to start you with five.

"Just Once" (with Quincy Jones, 1981)

The Ohio-born Ingram got his start in the band Revelation Funk (who recorded a tune for the Blaxploitation classic Dolemite) before hustling as a sideman for Ray Charles and The Coasters. He also got paid $50 to sing demos for a publisher. When Quincy Jones heard one of those demos, a Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil tune called "Just Once," he hired Ingram to re-record the vocal for his bestseller The Dude. "Just Once" and "One Hundred Ways" were both Top 20 hits.

"Baby, Come to Me" (with Patti Austin, 1982)

Quincy soon set to work on solo albums for The Dude's primary vocalists: Ingram and Patti Austin. Naturally, he paired them up not once but twice: Austin appeared on Ingram's debut It's Your Night, singing the Top 5 adult contemporary hit and Oscar-nominated "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" And Ingram guested on Austin's Every Home Should Have One with a quiet storm ballad called "Baby, Come to Me." Though only a modest chart hit on initial release, it gained additional exposure in 1983 after soundtracking General Hospital's new breakout character Luke Spencer; his captivating romance and wedding to Laura Webber on the soap opera helped propel the song all the way up to the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

Read More: February 1983: Patti Austin & James Ingram Hit #1 with "Baby, Come to Me"

"Yah Mo B There" (with Michael McDonald, 1983)

The biggest hit from It's Your Night reunited Ingram with Jones and songwriter Rod Temperton, fresh off of Michael Jackson's Thriller. (Jones and Ingram wrote one of the album's seven Top 10 hits, "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing.") Ingram has said that the unconventional title of "Yah Mo B There" - featuring blue-eyed soul singer Michael McDonald - came from an idea of "how to say 'God will be there' without scaring most of the audience away" - "Yahweh" being the Hebrew name for the divine. (Others have had different explanations.) Whatever the origin, the song was another Top 20 hit in the U.S. and the U.K.

Read More: The Groove Lines: Rod Temperton's Greatest Songs

"Somewhere Out There" (with Linda Ronstadt, 1986)

Working again with a song by Mann and Weil, "Somewhere Out There" was the unexpectedly tender theme song to the animated movie An American Tail, about a family of mice emigrating to America in the 1880s. The songwriting duo didn't set out to write a pop hit, but that's just what they did, thanks in no small part to Ronstadt and Ingram's powerful blend together. "Somewhere Out There" soared to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1987, taking home Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Best Song Written for Visual Media.

"I Don't Have the Heart" (1990)

Despite dominating '80s R&B radio, one thing kept eluding Ingram: a solo No. 1 hit. That changed in 1990 with the release of It's Real, an eclectic album featuring productions from New Jack swing icons like Gene Griffin and Gerald Levert as well as collaborations with Philly soul legend Thom Bell. "I Don't Have the Heart," a ballad Bell produced, finally gave the singer a chart-topper he could truly call his own.

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