R&B innovator Kashif Saleem dies at 59

When Kashif Saleem was sent the demo for a tender ballad called “You Give Good Love,” he felt it was a hit. The track had originally been destined for jazzy R&B singer Roberta Flack, whose assistant rebuffed the demo writer. 

But Saleem had a different singer in mind. He had seen a young artist by the name of Whitney Houston at the behest of Arista president Clive Davis and felt the song would be a knockout for her — and he was right. The single, released in 1985, became Houston’s first No. 1 R&B record, a crossover pop hit. 

Saleem, the influential R&B singer and producer behind Houston’s breakout single, as well as records from Barry White, Evelyn “Champagne” King and George Benson, was found dead in his Playa del Rey home, members of his family confirmed Tuesday. 

The musician was found by a neighbor, and it appears he died Sunday of natural causes, according to reports. He was 59.

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“We are saddened by the passing of our brother. We ask for your thoughts and prayers to be with us at this time,” read a statement attributed to family members Mike and Pam Stitt. 

Born Michael Jones on Dec. 26, 1956, in Harlem, he was introduced in elementary school to music in the form of a $3 flute. Encouraged by teachers, he learned the trumpet, piano, saxophone and tuba and used music to escape a life of bouncing between foster homes. 

By age 12, he was playing in New York clubs, and at 15 he joined B.T. Express — known for the hits “Here Comes the Express” and “Do It (’Til You’re Satisfied)” — as a keyboardist and vocalist before working with R&B songstress Stephanie Mills. 

He then moved into producing, crafting the 1981 smash “I’m in Love” for King (it went No. 1 on the R&B chart) and becoming a sought-after songsmith. 

Studying Islam led him to change his name from Michael Jones to Kashif Saleem. “Kashif” means inventor, discoverer and magic maker.

Kashif signed to Arista as a solo artist, and his self-titled 1983 debut included hits “I Just Got to Have You (Lover Turn Me On),” “Stone Love,” and “The Mood,” which was nominated for a Grammy. 

Credited for introducing the synthesizer to R&B, Kashif went on to work with Melba Moore, Dionne Warwick, Stacy Lattisaw, Al Jarreau, Jermaine Jackson and Meli’sa Morgan (their hit single “Love Changes” is an R&B classic). He wrote and produced “Inside Love” for George Benson, his musical idol, and helped break Kenny G.

He also wrote, directed and produced commercials and corporate films for a number of brands, including Hyundai.

“In terms of having an intention and finding a style, I never really thought about it, I just did what I did,” he said in an interview with Red Bull Music Academy earlier this year. “I didn’t really sit down and say, ‘OK, I want to make this my sound.’ I just made music, and when I started having hits, that sort of said to me, ‘OK, maybe you should keep going in this direction.’ ”

Outside of music, Kashif Saleem was passionate about education and activism. 

He’s the author of “Everything You’d Better Know About the Record Industry.” In 2006, he founded Kashif University as a summer program for youth in foster care at Pepperdine University in Malibu before it expanded and relocated to Morningside High School in Inglewood, and his Team iCare Foundation produced the first Walk/Run for Foster Care at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena. 

He was inducted into the R&B Hall of Fame in 2004. A 10-part documentary series, “The History of R&B Music and Its Influence on World Culture,” written and directed by the musician, was in the works before his death.

For more music news follow me on Twitter:@GerrickKennedy

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