Jimmy James, ‘Come to Me Softly’ singer for The Vagabonds, dead at 83

Jimmy James

Jimmy James, the lead singer of The Vagabonds during the 1960s and ‘70s who sang the group’s signature hit, “Come to Me Softly,” died May 15. He was 83.

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The soulful singer died in London at Northwick Park Hospital, his family told the Jamaica Observer. James reportedly had Parkinson’s disease and a heart condition that led him to retire from performing, according to Billboard.

James arrived in London with his group in 1964, and the band’s combination of calypso and ska, mixed with R&B and big band standards, endeared The Vagabonds to British audiences, The Guardian reported.

Their popularity resulted in a recording contract, a residency at London’s Marquee Club and appearances as a supporting group for the Rolling Stones and The Who, according to the newspaper.

James, who was born in Brown’s Town, Jamaica, moved to Kingston to pursue music during the 1950s, the Observer reported. He recorded songs for producers including Clement Dodd and Lindon Pottinger, the latter producing the early, original version of “Come to Me Softly,” written by James.

He came to Pottinger with his composition, “Bewildered and Blue” (1961), hoping to find someone to record it, The Guardian reported. Instead, he was asked to sing it.

“The next thing I know, I hear it play on the radio,” James later said.

After joining the group, James changed the band’s name to Jimmy James and The Vagabonds.

The group released two songs that charted on the Billboard Hot 100: “Come to Me Softly,” which hit No. 76 in 1968; and “I Am Somebody,” which peaked at No. 94 in 1976.

The group barely missed the Hot 100 with a version of Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine,” according to Billboard. The song reached the top 40 in the United Kingdom charts and would have greater success with UB40′s version reaching No. 1 on the Billboard charts in late 1988.

In the 1970s, James had two pop hits with “I’ll Go Where Your Music Takes Me” and “Now is The Time,” according to the Observer.

James is survived by his wife Paula, five sons, two daughters, grandchildren, two sisters, nieces and nephews, according to the newspaper.

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