'Billie Jean' Drummer Ndugu Chancler Dead at 65, Musicians Pay Respects

Ndugu Chancler
Steve Grayson/WireImage

Ndugu Chancler

Legendary session drummer Ndugu Chancler, who worked with many of musics' most notable acts over a 50-plus year career passed away on Saturday (Feb. 3) at 65-years-old. 

Born Leon Chancler in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1952, Ndugu provided the grooves for the likes of Thelonius Monk, Frank Sinatra, Lionel Richie, and perhaps most famously, Michael Jackson. The drummer crafted the legendary intro to one of Jackson's biggest hits 1983's "Billie Jean." Chancler is also co-credited as a songwriter on Dazz Band's Grammy-nominated 1982 record "Let It Whip."

Fellow musicians hit the social sphere to express their condolences and praise the groove-maker. The Roots drummer Questlove composed a lengthy ode to Chancler on Instagram, breaking down his impact on pop music and Michael Jackson's musical DNA. 

Chancler's wife confirmed his death to Rolling Stone, although a cause of death has not yet been revealed.


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 #BruceSwedien 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. 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. Rest easy king!

A post shared by Questlove Gomez (@questlove) on


Gonna miss my ‘big brother’ ... Ndugu ... rest peacefully #NduguChancler

A post shared by NATHAN ? EAST (@nathaneast) on


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