’80’s hit R&B writer/producer, the first to produce a hit on Whitney Houston, found dead at the age of 56
The music producer that worked on Whitney Houston’s iconic first single passed away unexpectedly at the age of 56 on Sunday. He was found dead in his Los Angeles home on Monday afternoon, where he lived alone.
Kashif, born Michael Jones, converted to Islam, changing his name to Kashif Saleem after touring as a keyboardist for funk band B.T. Express in the mid-70s. After leaving the band in 1978, Kashif linked up with as a touring musician for Stephanie Mills, who by then had scored career solo hits produced by Reggie Lucas and James Mtume.
In the early ’80s, Kashif forged his own style by signing as a solo act on Clive Davis’s Arista labels. Few hit singles emerged, but it was his expansion of songwriting and production skills on other in-demand and artists falling into lukewarm status that established his name within the music industry. His first major breakthrough as a producer happened on Evelyn “Champagne” King, producing Top Ten R&B singles “I’m in Love,” “Betcha She Don’t Love You” and “Love Come Down” from 1981 to 1982. His work allowed him to work with HUSH Productions, a production company in New York, eventually attracting a slew of clients to his table and producing massive results. Kashif’s work was being heard on albums for Melba Moore, George Benson, Kenny G, Exposé, Dionne Warwick (recording the Top 20 R&B hit duet “Reservations for Two”) and Meli’sa Morgan (which he duet with on the R&B cover of “Love Changes,” a No. 2 R&B hit).
Despite landing a number of Grammy nominations during this period, Kashif’s greatest achievement happened in 1985 when the La La-penned “You Give Good Love” opened up the debut album for Whitney Houston. It was Houston’s first single, leading the way for the unstoppable pop hits that would follow. “You Give Good Love” was produced by Kashif, forcing the HUSH sound — a sweet brew of delicate synths, trendy drum programming, elaborate contemporary rhythms and mostly midtempo — into the marketplace and elevating his profile throughout much of the ’80’s.
Although production work slowed up by the 1990’s, Kashif continued to reinvent himself and his career by becoming a philanthropist (founding Team iCare Foundation), a self-help author for musicians (Everything You’d Better Know About the Record Industry sold over 375,000 copies and writing music for commercials.).
In 2015, the TvOne bio-doc series Unsung produced an episode on his life and legacy.
Musicians, industry friends and many loved ones reacted to the news of his passing on social media. Some of their quotes include the following:
“My heart is broken right now. You will always have a special place in my heart. One of the best producers and friends anyone could have.”
“My heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and all who has been influenced by legendary musician, songwriter, producer and friend Kashif. [He] had been a very big part of my career since 1981 with the hits he has written and produced for me. We will keep your legacy alive. I’m still stunned by the news of his passing.”
Evelyn “Champagne” King
“Big ups and condolences to yet another awesome entertainer Kashif! You will be missed.”
Alisa Peoples (Yarbrough & Peoples)
“Very sad to learn of the passing of my friend and colleague Kashif. I had a personal friendship with him that began after we had done an interview when he was in BT Express…We spent time together during his London visit earlier this year and I will truly miss this soulful, super-creative and talented man.”
David Nathan (author, music journalist, SoulMusic.com founder)
UPDATE: The article was modified to state that Kashif did not develop HUSH Productions. That company was mostly operated by Beau Higgins, where Kashif served as a staff producer and songwriter.