James Radcliffe was born on November 18, 1936 in New York City’s Harlem Ghetto. Jimmy began singing at a young age as a choir member at his church and school, All Souls Episcopal Church. In 1954, Jimmy enlisted in the Air Force and immediately began singing with the Entertainment Corp where he performed both as the lead singer of the five man group, The Fascinators and as a soloist, accompanying himself on guitar. In 1957 he made his television debut on the Armed Forces Network in Germany, which is better known as the network that aired Elvis Presley in 1958.
After Jimmy completed his military duties in 1958, he returned to New York where he immediately found ways to continue singing. Jimmy began singing with street corner groups and performing at neighborhood clubs and night halls. By 1959, Jimmy gained a reputation for his winning stage performance and had recorded demos earning him radio play. It was this radio play that led to Jimmy’s songwriting contract with the publishing arm of Musicor, January Music, founded by Aaron Schroeder. At January Music Jimmy joined Aaron, Wally Gold and Al Kooper as house writers.
In 1962, Musicor issued Jimmy’s first record, "Twist Calypso" (B-side “Don’t Look My Way”) which was designed to capitalize on the West Indian sound sparked by Harry Belafonte's 1956 Calypso album. Both sides of the record were written by Jimmy and Phil Stern, whose collaborations continued through 1970 when they wrote “Everybody Needs Love” for the Harlem Globetrotters.
Jimmy and Carl Spencer co-wrote "This Time Tomorrow” which was recorded by Tammy Montgomery (Terrell) and “Deep In The Heart Of Harlem”, a Billboard R&B hit for both Clyde McPhatter (The Drifters) and Walter Jackson. The ex-Drifter McPhatter recorded five of Jimmy’s songs on his 1964 Songs Of The Big City album including "My Block,” “A Suburban Town,” “Three Rooms with Running Water,” “Coney Island” and “Deep In The Heart Of Harlem.” “My Block” reached #67 on Billboard's Hot 100 in 1963 for The Chiffons, recording as The Four Pennies.
One of the most recognized of Jimmy’s writing partners was Joey Brooks who would later write the Academy Award winning song “You Light Up My Life.” Between 1963 and 1965 they wrote a number of songs including, “All The Colors Of The Rainbow” recorded by The Andrew Sisters and “It’s Been A Long Time Coming” recorded by Eric Burdon & The Animals.
In 1964, after a chance meeting with Civil Rights Activist the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in a Harlem supper-club, Jimmy was so inspired that he went home and composed a timeless ballad of freedom and equality called “Stand Up.”
In addition to recording his own songs, Jimmy would often sing as the demo vocalist for other publishers. Using his musical talent, he was able to create the vocal presentation that would best suit a specific artist. This is best demonstrated with the Ray Charles version of the Jimmy Radcliffe/Buddy Scott tune, "Show Me The Sunshine." In another instance, Jimmy recorded a demo of the Gordon Mills/Leslie Reed penned song, "It's Not Unusual" later recorded by Tom Jones.
Jimmy also recorded the demo “This Diamond Ring” by Al Kooper, Bobby Brass and Irwin Levine in an attempt to get The Drifters to record it. It became a #1 pop hit for Gary Lewis & The Playboys in 1965.
Jimmy also recorded as a back-up singer. Most notable are the Drifters’ sessions he recorded with The Sweet Inspirations. These sessions brought Dionne Warwick together with Burt Bacharach and Hal David and Jimmy together with Dee Dee Warwick and Cissy Houston. Jimmy liked their sound so much he used them on his 1963 Musicor release, "Through A Long And Sleepless Night," which was produced by Bert Berns. Berns also produced the 1964 release, "Long After Tonight Is All Over," backed again by The Sweet Inspirations. This Bacharach and David number was originally recorded by Jimmy as a demo for label mate Gene Pitney, but on hearing Jimmy’s demo version, Musicor decided to issue the record keeping Jimmy as the vocalist. As the story goes while recording this session Jimmy’s wife, Judy, came by the studio to have a listen as did pal and label mate, Gene Pitney. For a laugh when Jimmy wasn’t looking Gene put his arm around Jimmy’s wife and pretended to be flirting with her. Well when Jimmy looked up and caught an eyeful of what was going on he yelled, “Hey!” from the booth. A laugh immortalized forever on this take of the classic. In February 1965, this song reached #43 on the pop hit list in the UK.
“My Ship Is Comin’ In” is described as one of the great songs to come out of New York in Robert Pruters, “The Blackwell Guide to Soul Recordings.” Jimmy’s 1965 released version of “My Ship Is Comin’ In” - pure magic and needs no introduction to the discerning soul enthusiast. This alternate takes the sublimely grand heights of emotion already evident in the track and cranks the passion up ever so much more as he sings the spoken part much like Walter Jackson would do two years later. The Walker Brothers would score a #3 pop hit (1965) with “My Ship Is Comin’ In” based on Jimmy’s reading. Also on hand is “What I Want” with even more of a calypso tinge than the original flip to the Musicor monster “Long After Tonight Is All Over.” The alternate take on the Burt Bacharach arranged and conducted “(There Goes) The Forgotten Man” has all the flair and pathos of the release minus a little of the echo.
In 1966 Jimmy moved into the field of TV and Radio advertising, where he wrote and performed jingles. Jimmy appeared in over 200 TV and Radio commercials and was recognized as one of the top performers in the advertising field, known as “King of the Jingle.” Steve Karmen remembers Jimmy in the advertising industry.
1969 saw Jimmy signing with RCA and releasing a single, "Funky Bottom Congregation" that year. It was also the year Jimmy started working with a newly signed RCA artist, Carolyn Franklin, the third Franklin sister with a recording contract. Carolyn's first two RCA albums were produced by Jimmy and he also contributed a song to each release - "More Than Ever Before" on the Baby Dynamite album from 1969 and "Right On" from the Chain Reaction album in 1970. Jimmy and Carolyn co-wrote the track "Pullin'" which appeared on Aretha Franklin's Spirit In The Dark album.
In 1972, Jimmy’s health was strained when he was hospitalized with high blood pressure, causing a major stress on his kidney. This strain eventually led to the removal of one of his kidneys, which then required daily dialysis. In the following months, Jimmy suffered a minor stroke and lost the sight in his left eye. Over the following months his health continued to decline.
Although it had become more and more difficult to work, Jimmy agreed to prodcuce Carolyn Franklin's third album in early 1973 entitled, "Darling I'd Rather" after one of Jimmy’s tunes, “I’d Rather Be Lonely.” From the onset, Jimmy had problems with RCA over the money he was spending on the production, and he was eventually replaced by Wade Marcus, who had worked on Carolyn's Chain Reaction album. By this time, Jimmy's health had deteriorated more and his remaining kidney was failing, which caused Jimmy to spend most of the day on dialysis while waiting for a transplant. Carolyn's album was still in production, and with neither Carolyn nor RCA happy with the way it was shaping up, they decided to rehire Jimmy to complete the project. He managed to complete the A-side of the album before his condition took a turn for the worse. He entered the Veterans Administration Hospital in the Bronx on July 2, 1973. Twenty-five days later on July 27, 1973, Jimmy Radcliffe died of natural causes at the age of 36. He was interred at the Long Island National Cemetery on August 2, leaving behind his wife Judy and two sons, Christopher and William.