Kool & the Gang Co-Founder Dennis Thomas Dies at 70

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Dennis (“Dee Tee”) Thomas

Dennis Thomas, a co-founder and sax player of Kool & the Gang, died August 7, 2021, at the age of 70 in New Jersey. The news of his passing was made by the soul-funk band on their Facebook page. The group’s announcement noted that Thomas (known as “Dee Tee”) passed away peacefully in his sleep.

An original member of Kool & the Gang, Thomas was known as the “cool cat” in the group, loved for his hip clothes and hats, and his laid-back demeanor. Thomas was also a flutist and percussionist, as well as master of ceremonies at the band’s shows. His prologue featured on the group’s 1971 hit, “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight” is legendary and an example of his showmanship.

In the band’s early days, Thomas also served as the “budget hawk,” carrying the group’s earnings in a paper bag in the bell of his horn.

Kool & the Gang kicked off the 2021 season of the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on the 4th of July. It proved to be Thomas’ farewell appearance with the band.

Watch the holiday fireworks display followed by the song’s performance

In 1964, seven teenage friends came together, brothers Ronald Bell and Robert “Kool” Bell, and friends Thomas, Spike Mickens, Ricky Westfield, George Brown, and Charles Smith, to create 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 Kool & the Gang in 1969.

The band has earned two GRAMMY® Awards, seven American Music Awards, 25 Top 10 R&B hits including nine that reached #1, nine Top Ten pop hits and 31 gold and platinum albums. Thomas is listed as a co-writer on such group classics as “Celebration,” “Hollywood Swinging,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Ladies’ Night.”

Kool & the Gang’s music has been featured on the soundtracks of countless films including Rocky, Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction.

Listen to the single edit of 1979’s “Ladies’ Night”

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. On March 24, 2021, Kool & the Gang’s #1 pop and R&B hit “Celebration” was inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.

Listen to the full-length version of the song

Thomas was born on Feb. 9, 1951, in Orlando, Fla. He was married to Phynjuar Saunders Thomas and was a long-time resident of Montclair, NJ.

Related: Musicians we’ve lost in 2021

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