Kool & the Gang founding member Dennis ‘Dee Tee’ Thomas dead at 70

Thomas was "the quintessential cool cat in the group," the band says in announcing the musician's passing

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Dennis ‘Dee Tee’ Thomas, alto saxophonist and co-founder of hit-making funk and pop band Kool & the Gang, passed away Saturday at the age of 70.

The legendary music group announced Thomas’ death in a statement on Facebook, saying he died “peacefully in his sleep” in New Jersey, though the statement did not disclose the cause of death.

Thomas formed Kool & the Gang in 1964 with bassist Robert “Kool” Bell and his brother, the late tenor saxophonist Ronald Bell, along with drummer George Brown, guitarist Charles Smith, trumpeter Robert “Spike” Mickens and pianist Ricky Westfield. Over the course of two decades, the band with a tight brand of funk music amassed a catalog of hits, playing with the facilities of seasoned jazz musicians and infectious exuberance.

In this Aug. 3, 2008 file photo, Dennis Thomas performs with the band “Kool & the Gang” in concert in Bethlehem, Pa. (Joe Gill/The Express-Times via AP)

The horn section of Thomas, Bell and Mickens were key components of the group’s hits, mastering a myriad of sounds from the mostly jam-based funk of “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging” to the often-sampled, soothing soul of “Summer Madness.” Kool & the Gang also released pop smashes like “Ladies Night,” “Celebration,” “Get Down On It” and “Cherish.”

The band won two Grammy Awards and seven American Music Awards, later receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2015.

Thomas was “the quintessential cool cat in the group,” the band said in the official statement.

Thomas was a versatile member of the group, serving as a flautist and percussionist, the band’s wardrobe stylist and master of ceremonies. The infamous monologue of their live 1971 hit, “Who’s Gonna Take The Weight,” is delivered by Thomas.

In this Nov. 7, 2014 file photo, George Brown, Ronald Bell, Dennis Thomas and Robert ‘Kool’ Bell of Kool & the Gang arrive during the 2014 Soul Train Awards at the Orleans Arena at The Orleans Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Omar Vega/Invision/AP, File)

Dennis Thomas was born on February 9, 1951, in Orlando, Florida. He would meet his bandmates in Jersey City, New Jersey, and formed The Jazziacs before renaming themselves Kool & the Gang. Thomas lived most of his life in Montclair, New Jersey.

A lifelong member of Kool & the Gang, Thomas remained active to the very end. He contributed to the animated YouTube docuseries series Kool TV about its member’s beginnings and continued to tour. His final performance with the band was on July 4 at The Hollywood Bowl. Their 25th studio album, Perfect Union, is set to release on Aug. 20.

Thomas is survived by his wife, Phynjuar Saunders Thomas, sons, David and Devin, and daughter, Tuesday Rankin. He was also the father of actress Michelle Thomas of The Cosby Show and Family Matters fame, according to The Sun. She died of stomach cancer in 1998.

With Thomas’ death, there are only two of the original seven founding members of Kool & the Gang left living; Robert Bell and Brown.

Ronald Bell most recently died at the age of 68 in September 2020 in the Virgin Islands, as reported by People.

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