According to NPR, Kool & The Gang co-founder Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas—who played alto saxophone and flute in addition to serving as the group’s emcee during live shows—has died. The news was confirmed by a statement from a representative for Thomas, which said that he “died peacefully in his sleep” this weekend. Thomas was 70.
Thomas was born in Florida in 1951 and, along with Robert “Kool” Bell, Ronald Bell, and George Brown, Robert “Spike” Mickens, Ricky Westfield, and Charles Smith, he was one of the original co-founders of the jazz group that would eventually go on to become Kool & The Gang in the mid-’60s. Most of the original members also attended high school together in New Jersey. After performing for a while as what was essentially a Motown cover band, the group decided to make a more serious run at a professional music career and had become Kool & The Gang by 1969 when they signed a record deal with De-Lite Records.
The group went on to win multiple Grammy Awards, creating a very successful blend of jazz, soul, and funk and releasing hit singles like “Jungle Boogie,” “Ladies Night, “Celebration,” and “Get Down On It” off of albums like Something Special, Celebrate, and Ladies’ Night. The group has sold over 70 million albums. Thomas, in particular, was prominently featured in the intro to “Who’s Gonna Take The Weight,” with NPR adding that the statement from his reps said he also served as the group’s “wardrobe stylist” (thanks to his penchant for stylish clothes and unique hats). His last appearance with Kool & The Gang was earlier this year at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
Ronald Bell, one of Kool & The Gang’s other founding members, died suddenly in September of last year. Thomas is survived by his wife, daughter, and two sons.