Dennis Thomas, Founding Member Of Kool & The Gang, Dies At 70
Founding member and saxophonist for the band Kool & the Gang, Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, died at 70 on August 7 in Montclair, New Jersey.
Thomas formed the band in 1964 with six of his friends: Robert Bell, known as Kool, Ronald Bell, Spike Mickens, Ricky Westfield, George Brown and Charles Smith. The band was initially named The Jazziacs before agreeing to name their group Kool & the Gang.
“We learned that we had to simplify, that most simple music will grab a wide part of the audience,” Thomas told The New York Times in 1973, referring to the band’s musical style. “Everybody in the group was a jazz musician at heart, but we knew we had to play R&B to make money.”
According to a statement from his representatives, Thomas died in his sleep.
Kool & the Gang was known for its songs “Celebration,” “Get Down On It” and “Jungle Boogie.” He remained with the band through several lineup changes.
His representatives noted that Thomas was known for being a “huge personality” in the band. He helped style the performers’ wardrobes to make sure that “they always looked fresh.”
“Dennis was known as the quintessential cool cat in the group, loved for his hip clothes and hats, and his laid-back demeanor,” said the statement.
In 1978, the band won a Grammy. During this time, the band went through a slow period before finding their new vocalist, J.T. Taylor. The group reemerges a year later with the song “Ladies Night,” which was followed by one of their most popular hits, “Celebration.”
“Celebration” was inducted into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, which is reserved for 25 songs that represent the rich heritage of American music.
The band was featured on Band Aid’s 1984 single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Many of the decade’s most popular artists participated in recording the track in order to raise awareness about the ongoing famine in Ethiopia.
Thomas’s representatives said he was initially referred to as the band’s “budget hawk” and that he was often seen “carrying the group’s earnings in a paper bag in the bell of his horn.”
His saxophone solos were featured on many of the band’s tracks. Thomas also knew how to play the flute and percussion instruments; he was the master of ceremonies in their shows.
His last performance with the group took place on July 4 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
Thomas was born on February 9 in 1951 in Orlando, Florida. He and his parents moved to Jersey City, New Jersey when he was 2 years old. He was raised in Jersey City’s Lafayette section, where he met the other founding members of the band.
“We want to play a universal music,” said Thomas in 1973. “We want to lift our audiences up so they think about what they’ve heard”
Kool & the Gang had a dozen top 10 hits on the Billboard charts; the band was awarded their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2015.
One of his daughters, Michelle Thomas, acted in TV shows such as The Cosby Show, Family Matters and The Young and the Restless. Thomas died after battling cancer in 1998 at age 30. His daughter Tracy Jackson also passed away.
Thomas is survived by his wife, Phynjuar Saunders Thomas, his daughter Tuesday Rankin, his sons David and Devin and his siblings Doris Mai McClary, Elizabeth Thomas Ross and Bill Mcleary.