James Chance Death & Obituary: The Contortions saxophonist and vocalist has died at age 71

James Chance Death & Obituary: James Chance, renowned saxophonist and vocalist with James Chance and the Contortions, has passed away at the age of 71. His death was announced by his brother David Siegfried of Chicago, who noted that James’ health had been in decline for several years but did not specify a cause of death. James is survived by his mother Jean Siegfried, brother David Siegfried and his wife Donna Seaman, and sisters Jill Siegfried and Mary Koehler with her husband Randy. His longtime partner, Judy Taylor, passed away in 2020.

Who Was James Chance?

James Chance Death & Obituary: The Contortions saxophonist and vocalist has died at age 71

Born James Siegfried in Milwaukee, James Chance was also known by the stage name James White, notably in his group James White and the Blacks. He was a key figure in the No Wave movement of the late 1970s in New York City, known for his confrontational and controversial performances as the saxophonist and singer of the Contortions and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks.

Career Highlights

James Chance’s final live performance is believed to have taken place in March 2019 in Utrecht, The Netherlands. He epitomized the No Wave era of downtown New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s, blending jazz, punk, and funk with a distinct sound and swagger. His intense and confrontational stage presence, often marked by physical altercations with audience members, made him a standout figure in a scene that included other notable acts like Blondie, Talking Heads, and the Ramones.

James Chance played in various bands, including the Flaming Demonics, James Chance & the Sardonic Symphonics, James Chance and Terminal City, and James Chance and Les Contortions. After moving to New York City in 1976, he started Teenage Jesus and the Jerks with his roommate Lydia Lunch and later formed the Contortions in 1977. The Contortions appeared on the “No New York” compilation album, assembled by Brian Eno with assistance from singer-scenester Adele Bertei.

The Contortions released influential albums such as “Buy” in 1979 and “Off White” in 1980 under the name James White and the Blacks. Their sax-driven funk was a unique blend of influences from James Brown, Ornette Coleman, and Iggy Pop, and echoes of their sound can be heard in many bands that followed.

Despite his musical influence, Chance’s often erratic behavior led to unstable band lineups. The 1982 James White and the Blacks album “Sax Maniac” featured a completely different lineup due to these tensions.


Marc Masters, in the liner notes for a reissue of “Buy,” wrote, “Led by the brash yelps and free-sax squawks of Chance, Contortions spit out fiercely rhythmic tunes charged by the wiry guitar lines of Jody Harris and the dizzying slide guitar of Pat Place. Opener ‘Designed to Kill’ shoots sparks of sound in all directions, while ‘Contort Yourself’ is a nihilistic dance number wherein Chance instructs listeners to twist into knots, physically and mentally. ‘It’s better than pleasure, it hurts more than pain,’ he snarls, later imploring, ‘You better try being stupid instead of smart.’”


James Chance’s death marks the end of an era for the No Wave movement and the music scene that thrived in downtown New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s. His unique blend of jazz, punk, and funk, combined with his intense stage presence, left an indelible mark on the music world. As his family, friends, and fans mourn his passing, his legacy as a pioneering and provocative artist will continue to resonate.