IN MEMORIAM: Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, Billie Jean’s Drummer, Dies // Other Notable Musicians Deaths
Leon “Ndugu” Chancler (July 1, 1952 – February 3, 2018) was a world-renowned American pop, funk and jazz drummer. He further developed his skills and shared his talent as a studio musician, composer, producer and university professor.
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, on July 1, 1952, Leon Ndugu Chancler was the last child of seven children from the union of Rosie Lee and Henry Nathaniel Chancler. In 1960 the family relocated to Los Angeles, California. Chancler began playing drums when he was thirteen years old. He would publicly reminisce about being asked to leave a classroom for continuously tapping on the desk, only to be later heard tapping on the poles in the hallway. His love for the drums took over while attending Gompers Junior High School and it became his lifelong ambition. He graduated from Locke High School and was heavily involved in the band. While in high school, he played with Willie Bobo and the Harold Johnson Sextet. He graduated from California State University, Dominguez Hills with a degree in music education. By then he had already performed with the Gerald Wilson Big Band, Herbie Hancock, and recorded with Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Bobby Hutcherson.
He recorded as a sideman in jazz, blues, and pop music, including the iconic and instantly recognizable drums on “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson. In 1982, he received a Grammy nomination for Best Rhythm & Blues song, for co-writing “Let It Whip” made famous by the Dazz Band. He worked with George Benson, Stanley Clarke, The Crusaders, George Duke, Herbie Hancock, John Lee Hooker, Hubert Laws, Thelonious Monk, Jean-Luc Ponty, Lionel Richie, Kenny Rogers, Patrice Rushen, Santana, Frank Sinatra, Donna Summer, The Temptations, Tina Turner, and Weather Report.
In 2006, he became an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Southern California and taught at the Stanford Jazz Workshop in California for three weeks every summer. He was a member of the Percussive Arts Society.
Throughout his recording career, Chancler billed himself as Leon (Ndugu) Chancler, or sometimes Ndugu Chancler. Ndugu is Swahili for “earth brother,” a family member or comrade.
Ndugu grew up active in his church and was mentored and influenced by many strong men that helped shape his life after the absence of his Father at age 13. His older brother Londell was a major support and motivation to him. When his Mother was diagnosed with diabetes Ndugu cared for her until her death in 1994.
Chancler had one child, a son Rashon Chafic Chancler with Vicki Guess. Family was important to him and he had many godchildren nieces, and nephews.
Chancler died at his home in Los Angeles, California on February 3, 2018 of prostate cancer, at the age of 65.
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Other Notable Musicians’ Deaths… February/March 2018
6: Mayra Mayra, 48, Puerto Rican singer, aneurysm; Jeff St John, 71, Australian musician.
5: Mykhaylo Chemberzhi, 73, Ukrainian composer; Kjerstin Dellert, 92, Swedish opera singer, respiratory failure.
4: Siva Choy, 70, Singaporean blues musician and comedian (One Leg Kicking), strokes.
3: Patrick Doyle, 32, Scottish drummer (Veronica Falls); Kenneth Gärdestad, 69, Swedish songwriter (“Satellit”), pneumonia and influenza following skin cancer and lymphoma; Richard Ho’opi’i, 76, American Hawaiian musician; Virgilijus Noreika, 82, Lithuanian opera singer, People’s Artist of the USSR
2: Brandon Jenkins, 48, American Red Dirt singer-songwriter, complications from heart surgery;
Jesús López Cobos, 78, Spanish conductor, cancer; Ronnie Prophet, 80, Canadian country singer, multiple organ failure.
1: Bender, 37, Canadian rapper; Bill Burkette, 75, American singer (The Vogues); Arabinda Muduli, 56, Indian musician and singer, cardiac arrest.
28: Nick Nixon, 76, American gospel and blues singer (The Andy T Band); Harvey Schmidt, 88, American musical theatre producer and writer (The Fantasticks, 110 in the Shade).
26: Juan Hidalgo Codorniu, 90, Spanish composer; Richard Hundley, 86, American pianist and composer; Thomas Pernes, 62, Austrian avant-garde composer.