Minneapolis icon reflects on life and legacy

Photo by Claudia Respini Walter Chancellor

Walter Chancellor’s sax appeal

Walter Chancellor is truly a troubadour of the times. With an impressive musical career as a professional saxophonist, educator, and producer, through his music, Chancellor has both navigated and narrated the social discourse of our world.

From the Civil Rights Movement to current-day calls for social justice, Chancellor has remained an active participant in creating incredible music and advancing activism, marking a musical career of more than 25 years. While Chancellor is perhaps most well-known for his participation in Prince’s double platinum album “Emancipation,” his personal story bellows deep and wide.

Chancellor’s relationship with music and Minnesota began long before today. Born in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb just north of Chicago, and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, Chancellor remembers when his interest in the saxophone first began at a very young age—at a Christmas program, at that.

“His name was Bobby Staton. I really looked up to that dude. He had this funny laugh, it was like a honk,” he recalled. “I saw him walking up towards the front with this case…it was a saxophone! He played ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.’ Blew. My. Mind.” Chancellor would go home to beg for a saxophone that evening; from that point on, his pursuit of the saxophone has not waned.

He won many first-place musical awards in recitals and formed and joined multiple bands like The Cold Sweats, a group he joined at age 13 and was managed by one of the bandmate’s fathers. It would not be until around 1977 that Chancellor found his way to the Mini Apple.

Between his early band days and creating his legacy in Minnesota, Chancellor and his saxophone weathered a lot. In the ’70s, he would join the service. Shortly after returning home, he would go on tour once again, in Florida. It was at this time that Chancellor would suffer one of the greatest tragedies in his life, losing a close friend and bandmate due to a homicide that he witnessed.

“The saxophone player killed the guitar player, one of my best friends.” he said. “I became clinically depressed…I was on the brink of suicide. I couldn’t do that to my momma, so I knew I had to do something else,” he said. Chancellor moved back home to Iowa, sought medical help, and per his doctor’s recommendation, began to practice transcendental meditation which he says was very instrumental in getting him out of depression.

Walter Chancellor, Jr./Facebook Walter in action

By the late ’70s, Chancellor had returned working and would make his way into a new chapter of his life and legacy right here in Minnesota. “I was inspired to come here because of Prince,” he said. Upon coming to Minnesota, Chancellor was quickly introduced to the late legend by Kirk Johnson and would go on to work on one of the most invigorating albums of the time, “Emancipation.”

“We started recording the ‘Emancipation’ record, which was a big deal at the time because [Prince] had just left Warner Brothers. It was like one of the biggest albums that was ever made. It was stellar because, you know, [Prince] did something that no other artist would do…just leave a record company. But he did it.”
Walter can be heard on the first track of the record “Jam of the Year” and also the song “Style.” This project would become a catalyst for much of Chancellor’s career.

Other names that Chancellor has played with include Chaka Khan, Cameo and Musiq Soulchild, amongst many others. As an educator, producer and multi-instrumentalist (who most recently picked up the clarinet at age 60), Chancellor continues to forge ahead with no end in sight.

You can find Chancellor’s latest Billboard-charting single “Stepping Out” now on all streaming platforms. For more info, visit https://www.walterchancellorjr.com.