Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, the drummer on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and other hits, has died at the age of 65, it was reported.
Born Leon Chancler in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1952, he provided drums for Thelonius Monk, Frank Sinatra, Lionel Richie, Tina Turner, James Brown, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, and more. He was also credited as a songwriter on Dazz Band’s “Let It Whip” in 1982, Billboard noted.
Leon "Ndugu" Chancler dies Saturday at 65, The drummer extraordinaire known for his 1982 iconic intro to "Billie Jean" and also on Michael Jackson's Thriller including "P.Y.T, and "Baby Be Mine. Other artists included Frank Sinatra, Hugh Masekela, James Brown and Tina Turner, pic.twitter.com/9Ccta8LD74
— Smooth Jazz Magazine (@smoothjazzmag) February 5, 2018
The website reported that he died Saturday. His wife confirmed his death to Rolling Stone, adding that the cause of death has yet to be revealed.
On social media, tributes poured in.
Roots drummer Questlove wrote about “Billie Jean”: “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 performance] literally gives MJ his DNA. You know what it is ONE SECOND in. Its creator, Jazz/funk great #NduguChancler (mind you on a GAZILLION other hit songs) passed away today. Giving all due respect and praise to the drummer that sparked a revolution of dance madness breakbeat mania,” he wrote on Instagram.