Goodbye to Keith LeBlanc

Goodbye to Keith LeBlanc

Keith LeBlanc, drummer, session musician and producer who became famous for his work with hip hop legends Grandmaster Flash and Sugarhill Gang, has passed away at the age of 69: as reported by Variety in breaking the news of his death, which occurred last Thursday 4 April, it was the artist's wife, Fran, who specified that an unspecified illness was fatal to her husband.

“All of us at On-U Sound are heartbroken to share the news of the passing of the great Keith LeBlanc,” LeBlanc's label said in a statement: “His writing and production skills were utilized by Living Colour, Peter Gabriel, Cure, Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. As a drummer he has worked with everyone from James Brown to Trevor Horn, via Seal, REM, Rolling Stones, Stone Roses, Robert Palmer, Bomb The Bass, Annie Lennox, Tina Turner, Bryan Ferry, Depeche Mode and Sinead O'Connor. An incredible drummer, producer and musical maverick, he will be greatly missed.”

Born in Connecticut, LeBlanc – struck by Beatles drummer Ringo Starr at a very young age – began performing live in clubs at 14, becoming the percussionist for the Sugar Hill Records house band replacing his friend Harold Sargent, playing on some of the biggest hits from hip hop giants like Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash, as well as artists like Moe Dee & the Treacherous 3, Crash Crew and Funky 4+1.

In 1983 he achieved success as a soloist thanks to the song “No Sell Out”, made with samples from a speech by the civil rights activist Malcolm X – to whose family all the proceeds generated by the song were donated.

Together with producer Adrian Sherwood, LeBlanc created the industrial-hip hop project Tackhead, together with bassist Doug Wimbish and guitarist Skip McDonald. As a session musician, over the course of his career the artist has collaborated – among others – with Nine Inch Nail for several songs included in “Pretty Hate Machine”, with REM for “Turn You Inside-Out”, with Depeche Mode for “Useless” and for “Diva” by Annie Lennox. “It's very sad to hear of the passing of Keith LeBlanc,” wrote ABC's Martin Fry on X: “Keith was a phenomenal talent. He was a pioneer and we will miss him greatly.”