Kool & the Gang co-founder Dennis Thomas dies at 70
Free Press wire reports | 8/12/2021, 6 p.m.
NEW YORK - Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, a founding member of the long-running, Grammy Award-winning soul-funk band Kool & the Gang, has died. He was 70.
Mr. Thomas died peacefully in his sleep Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021, in New Jersey, where he was a resident of Montclair, according to a statement from his representative.
Mr. Thomas was the alto sax player, flutist and percussionist for the group known for dance hits such as “Celebration” and “Get Down On It.” He served as master of ceremonies at the band’s shows. His last appearance with the group was the Fourth of July at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
Born Feb. 9, 1951, in Orlando, Fla., Mr. 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 teen friends created the group’s unique blend of jazz, soul and funk, at first calling themselves the Jazziacs. They went through several iterations before settling on Kool & the Gang in 1969. The group’s other founders are brothers Ronald and Robert Bell, Spike Mickens, Ricky Westfield, George Brown and Charles Smith.
Ronald Bell, who played the tenor saxophone, died Sept. 9, 2020, at home in the U.S. Virgin Islands at age 68. Spike Mickens, who played the trumpet, died in 2010; Ricky Westfield, the original keyboardist, died in 1985 after leaving in 1976 to form his own group; and Charles Smith, who played guitar, died in 2006.
The band has earned two Grammy Awards and seven American Music Awards. They were honored in 2014 with a Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award. Their music is heavily sampled and featured on film sound tracks, including those for “Rocky,” “Saturday Night Fever” and “Pulp Fiction.”
Mr. Thomas is survived by his wife, Phynjuar Saunders Thomas; a daughter, Tuesday Rankin; and two sons, David Thomas and Devin Thomas.