Hailing from Philadelphia, Tawatha Agee sang lead vocals on Mtume's million-selling single "Juicy Fruit" as well as her own hits "Thigh Ride," "Are Your Serious," and other hits produced by Mtume leader/jazz-based keyboardist James Mtume and Reggie Lucas. Mtume's first charting single was "Just Funnin'" on Epic; though the single was played in Chicago and other major markets it stalled at number 93 R&B in summer 1978. The next charting single, "Give It on Up (If You Want To)," hit number 26 R&B in summer 1980. The follow-up, "So You Wanna Be a Star," went to number 60 R&B in late 1980. Both were included on their 1980 Epic LP In Search of the Rainbow Seekers issued September 1980. It would be three years before Mtume would have another charting single, but what a "charting" single it would be!
James Mtume (m-too-may), who had produced and/or written (usually along with Reggie Lucas) hits for Stephanie Mills ("Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin'," "Sweet Sensation," "Never Knew Love Like This Before"), Phyllis Hyman ("You Know How To Love Me," "Under Your Spell"), Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway ("Closer I Get to You"), wanted to put the same level of attention on the next release from his group. To distinguish Mtume from his other productions, James decided to use a sparse sound, no horns or strings. He also wanted to write a song that was based on a female view. He used his usual method of creating the music first, then writing lyrics that fit while listening to the music track. In fact, for "Juicy Fruit," Tawatha would be recording one verse while James would be writing the verse that would follow it. No doubt these improvising skills were honed from his playing days with Miles Davis, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, and Freddie Hubbard.
Though Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On," "You Sure Love to Ball," and 1982's "Sexual Healing" were precursors of Mtume's "Juicy Fruit," the super sensual lyrics did cause a brouhaha. One Epic executive told James that radio wouldn't play the record. Probably most of the uproar centered on one line: "You can lick me everywhere." In the video for the song, "Candy kisses everywhere" replaced the line. The same edit was done on promo records aired by some radio stations and when the band performed the song on such TV shows as ABC-TV's American Bandstand.
No matter, "Juicy Fruit" b/w "Part II (Reprise)" went gold, holding the number one R&B spot for eight weeks in summer 1983. The track featured keyboardist David Frank and singer/guitarist Mic Murphy of the pioneering synth duo the System ("You Are in My System," "Don't Disturb This Groove"). The 12" version included a full instrumental version. The Juicy Fruit LP peaked at number 26 pop and included "Would You Like to (Fool Around)" and "Green Light."
The "Juicy Fruit"-flavored ballad "You, Me and He" b/w "Instrumental Rap" went to number two R&B. The You, Me and He album was issued August 1984 and yielded "C.O.D. (I'll Deliver)," "Breathless," "P.O.P. (Pursuits of Pleasure)," and "Body & Soul (Take Me)."
As with Starpoint's Renee Diggs, fans were clamoring for a solo LP from Tawatha. Her debut album, Welcome to My Dream, was issued by Epic in June 1987 and produced by James Mtume and Mtume member, guitarist Ed Moore and James Batton. The first single "Thigh Ride" dripped sensuality and had traces of "Juicy Fruit"; it peaked at number eight on Billboard's R&B chart in summer 1987. Its follow-ups, the sweetly romantic "Did I Dream You" made it to number 50 R&B in fall 1987 and the mid-tempo fat and funky "Are You Serious" went to number 46 R&B in late 1987.
Other standout tracks from Welcome to My Dream were the joyous, syncopated "Love Shine," the pumping "More Than Before," "Waiting's Over" ("There's no prince to come and take you away/in the real world if you want to make it/you've got to take it day by day"), and the sax-laced airy self-revelatory slow jam "No More Tears." Despite the success of Mtume and Tawatha's first album, curiously there were no more Tawatha LPs. Mtume disbanded with its leader James Mtume appearing on the cover of George Trower-Subira's book Black Folks' Guide to Making Big Money in America and become musical director of Fox-TV's mid-'90s urban police series New York Undercover. Tawatha went back to doing background vocals on various CDs, appearing on Celine Dion's These are Special Times and Falling into You, Jewel's Joy: A Holiday Celebration, R. Kelly's R, Sting's Brand New Day, and talk show host Rosie O'Donnell's A Rosie Christmas issued November 2, 1999. ~ Ed Hogan