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Ndugu Chancler (1952–2018), legendary session drummer

by Kirk Fox

Ndugu Chancler, legendary session drummer who played on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” has died at the age of 65, according to multiple news sources.

Chancler was on the drums for three tracks from Michael Jackson’s hit album “Thriller.” In addition to “Billie Jean,” he played on “P.Y.T.” and “Baby Be Mine.”

He was an in-demand studio drummer who played with many greats including Miles Davis, Lionel Ritchie, Santana, and Eric Clapton.


Chancler also co-wrote the Dazz Band’s 1982 hit dance funk song “Let It Whip.”

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He was born Leon Chancler in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1952.

While staying active as a musician, he also became an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Southern California and taught at the Stanford Jazz Workshop.

Many musicians paid tribute to Chancler on social media.

Quest Love, drummer for The Roots, talked about Chancler’s drumming skills on “Billie Jean” on Instagram:

“In my opinion, the “Billie Jean” intro is the greatest example of something so simple that you take it for granted. But if you truly dissect it. It’s a complex compelling performance. The tone is spot on. Enough snap on the snare but not too thin that it enters Ska/James Brown crack snare territory. The amount of reverb Bruce Swedien applies is SPOT on perfect. The performance However is timeless like a tuxedo. Or a pair of chucks. Or jeans and white t shirt. It literally gives MJ his dna…”

Mark Schulman, tour drummer for Pink, on Twitter:

“RIP dear Ndugu Chancler you were such a drumming influence and a gentleman to me! Love and light to your family!”

We invite you to share condolences for Ndugu Chancler in his Guest Book.

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