Leon “Ndugu “Chancler lost his battle with prostate cancer Feb. 3, surrounded by family and friends.
Chancler, who quietly battled cancer since his diagnosis in 2003, had been in remission for several years.
His son, Rashon Chancler, issued a statement saying, “It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of my father, Ndugu Chancler. As most know, I am his only child. However, as the sharing, caring person that he is, he took in many kids and individuals and treated them as if they were his own.
“He sponsored and funded kids for percussion and education trips, offering his own home. Through his humanitarian nature, I have gained many non-blood relatives who I consider family. Although he was a well-traveled working musician, he put family first and instilled God, life values and humility in me that I will always hold dear.
There was so much more I wanted to learn from him. However, he was called upon for a higher purpose. It is hard to mourn the loss of my father, who was also my close friend. But I know his spirit will always be with us, to remind us of the positive impact he had on the world. I want to thank everyone for their support and well wishes.”
Chancler’s death struck me hard. Over the years, he became a dear friend.
I first met him in the mid 1990s. I remember approaching him after a jazz concert in Leimert Park and was very excited for a chance to speak to this legendary artist. Before I could finish introducing myself, he stopped me.
“I’m from South Central L.A. and I keep up with you and what’s going on in my community,” he said. “Keep up the good work, brother.”
He then proceeded to introduce me to another South L.A. icon, jazz pianist and R&B singer Patrice Rushen who I also admired greatly. It was one of the highlights of my life at that time, meeting and talking to artists you grew up listening to on the radio and buying their records.
But despite his fame, Chancler was always down to earth and humble despite performing alongside Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, Santana, Hugh Masekela, Weather Report and numerous others.
Chancler also was the drummer on Michael Jackson’s hit “Billie Jean” from his “Thriller” album, which is estimated to have sold 66 million copies worldwide. Additionally, he played on high-profile movie soundtracks including “An Officer and A Gentleman,” “Indecent Proposal” and “The Color Purple.”
As a songwriter, he co-wrote hits for Santana including “Dance Sister Dance,” “Reach for It” for George Duke and “Let It Whip” for the Dazz Band, for which he received a Grammy nomination. He has co-produced recordings for Santana, Tina Turner, George Duke, Joe Sample, Patrice Rushen and Ernie Watts, leading to six gold and three platinum albums.
Chancler also was a professor and the creator of the drum set curriculum for the highly successful popular music program at USC, Stanford Jazz Workshop, the Young Musicians Program at UC Berkeley, the Jazz Mentorship Program in Los Angeles,and clinics worldwide for Yamaha, Paiste, Remo, Toca, Vic Firth and Shure Bros.
The loss felt by the community at Chancler’s passing was evident by the many postings on social media from former classmates, community members and fellow artists.
In an Instagram tribute, Questlove pays homage to his Chancler’s genius.
“In my opinion, the ‘Billie Jean’ intro is the greatest example of something so simple that you take it for granted,” Questlove said. “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 … passed away today. Giving all due respect and praise to the drummer that sparked a revolution of dance madness breakbeat mania.”
Miles Electric Band drummer and leader Vince Wilburn Jr. said: “I was blessed to have Ndugu Chancler in my life. I refer to him as The Godfather. He took me under his wing and taught me valuable music and life lessons. I will forever miss our early morning calls. Peaceful journey, Du.”
Drummer/producer Lenny White says: “I met Ndugu “Leon” Chancler when he was 17. I spoke at the high school he and Patrice Rushen attended. I knew then he was a young man destined for great things. This proved to be true, as he became an important music and education icon. Ndugu, we will all miss you, but you left us a legacy that will live forever.”
Chancler was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, and moved to Watts when he was 8. He graduated from Locke High School.
He is survived by his son Rashon, and the love of his life, Brenda Curry. A memorial service update will be held at 11 a.m. March 6 at Faithful Central Tabernacle in Inglewood.
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