David "Panama" Francis, 82, whose drumming was featured in top Harlem nightclubs and legendary rock songs, died Nov. 13 in Orlando after a stroke.

His career spanned seven decades. He first reached fame in the late 1930s playing with the Savoy Sultans -- described by Dizzy Gillespie as "the swingingest band there ever was" -- at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem.

The Sultans reemerged four decades later under Mr. Francis's leadership and drumming expertise. The Sultans were named best big band by the New York Jazz Society in 1980 and received Grammy nominations for two of their six albums.

When pop became a viable genre in the 1950s, Mr. Francis's services were in demand and he became one of the top studio drummers of the era.

His stickwork can be heard accompanying Buddy Holly ("Peggy Sue"), The Four Seasons ("Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man"), The Platters ("Only You," "The Great Pretender," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and "My Prayer"), Bobby Darin ("Splish Splash") and Neil Sedaka ("Calendar Girl").

Mr. Francis's rhythm-and-blues recordings include "Prisoner of Love" for James Brown, "What a Difference a Day Makes" for Dinah Washington, "Drown in My Own Tears" for Ray Charles and "Jim Dandy" for Laverne Baker.

Mr. Francis's autobiography, "David Gets His Drum," was published in 1999.