Kool & the Gang co-founder Dennis “Dee-Tee” Thomas died “peacefully in his sleep” on Saturday (Aug. 7) in New Jersey, according to Variety. He was 70 years old. The loss may come as a shock to some fans, considering he recently performed with the soul-funk group at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on July 4, launching the venue’s 2021 post-covid concert season.
Playing alto saxophone, flute, percussion, Thomas was known as the group’s original “master of ceremonies.” Thomas created Kool & The Gang in 1964 with brothers Ronald Bell and Robert “Kool” Bell, and friends Ricky Westfield, George Brown, Spike Mickens, and Charles Smith. The founder “was known as the quintessential cool cat in the group, loved for his hip clothes and hats, and his laid-back demeanor,” the release reads. He’s also named as the mastermind behind the intro to the group’s 1971 popular song “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight.”
Before taking the name Kool & The Gang, the band called themselves the Jazziacs for their mixed sounds of jazz, R&B, soul, and funk. The band went on to earn two Grammy Awards and seven American Music Awards, propelling them to become one of the most sampled bands to exist. They have produced 70 million albums worldwide, and have created 25 Top 10 R&B hits. They released their latest album Perfect Union in 2021, and had plans to continue doing live shows together. The band was given the Soultrain Lifetime Award in 2014 and was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame the year after. The death comes after fans mourned the loss of another original member, Ronald Bell, who died in September 2020.
Born on Feb. 9, 1951 in Orlando, Fla., Thomas was a famed resident of Montclair, N.J. He is predeceased by his mother Elizabeth Lee Thomas, sister Darlene Thomas, and his daughters, Michelle Thomas and Tracy Jackson. 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 as well as his numerous nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.