Kool & the Gang co-founder Dennis Thomas passes away

Dennis ‘Dee Tee’ Thomas, founder of the legendary funk band Kool & the Gang, has died aged 70

  • Kool & the Gang co-founder Dennis Thomas has died. He was 70.
  • A statement on the group’s Facebook said Thomas “passed away peacefully in his sleep” on August 7.
  • The group’s most popular singles include “Ladies Night,” “Get Down On It,” and “Celebration.”

Thomas was the alto sax player, flutist and percussionist. He served as master of ceremonies at the band’s shows. His last appearance with the group was July Fourth at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

Born Feb. 9, 1951, in Orlando, Fla., Thomas was known for his prologue on the band’s 1971 hit, “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight.” Known for his hip clothes and hats, he was also the group’s wardrobe stylist. In the early days, he served as their “budget hawk,” carrying their earnings in a paper bag stuffed into the bell of his horn, the statement said.

In 1964, seven teenage friends came together, brothers Ronald Bell and Robert “Kool” Bell, and friends Dennis Thomas, Spike Mickens, Ricky Westfield, George Brown, and Charles Smith, created a unique musical blend of jazz, soul and funk. At first calling themselves the Jazziacs, the band went through various name changes before settling on their famous moniker. Kool & the Gang officially launched in 1969 and are now true funk, soul, R&B and pop legends.

To date, the band has earned two GRAMMY® Awards, seven American Music Awards, 25 Top Ten R&B hits, nine Top Ten Pop hits and 31 gold and platinum albums. In addition, their bulletproof funk and jazzy arrangements made them the most sampled band of all time. Kool & the Gang’s music was also featured on the soundtracks of countless films including the classics Rocky, Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction. From Nairobi to New York, Kool & the Gang continues to perform, longer than any R&B group in history.

Their career was split into two distinct halves. In the early 70s, they scored US hits with the foot-stomping funk of songs like Jungle Boogie and Hollywood Swinging.

The group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2015 for their contribution to the world of entertainment, and were inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall Of Fame in 2018.

In 2014, the band was honored with a Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award; and in October 2015 they were honored to take their place as American musical icons with a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame. They are also included in installations at both the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. and the Grammy Museum in Newark, NJ. On March 24, 2021, Kool & the Gang’s timeless hit “Celebration” was inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, Class of 2020.

Recently, Dennis was featured on “Kool TV,” a series of animated shorts about the band members’ childhoods and career.

He is survived by his wife Phynjuar Saunders Thomas; daughter, Tuesday Rankin; sons, David Thomas and Devin Thomas; Aunt Mary “Duggie” Jones; sisters Doris Mai McClary and Elizabeth Thomas Ross; brother, Bill Mcleary; and a host of nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

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