Adding to the tragic list of music legends lost this year, co-founder of Kool & The Gang, Ronald Bell, has died. He passed away on Wednesday (September 9th) at his U.S. Virgin Islands home at the age of 68.
Starting his career with his brother by playing on paint cans as makeshift drums, the two Bell siblings worked Greenwich Village subway stops until they linked up with multiple friends to form the Jazziacs. They further transformed into Kool & the Flames, the Jazz Birds and, finally, Kool & the Gang. Notably, as the Jazz Birds, they won the Apollo Theater’s famed Amateur Night while still gigging local clubs in high school.
Over the course of 23 albums, starting with 1969’s Kool and the Gang through the 2013 Christmas album Kool for the Holidays, the band took on many different iterations, ranging from upstart jazz unit to chart-topping funk-soul ensemble to smooth pop group with the addition of vocalist James “J.T.” Taylor in 1979. Bell co-wrote many of the group’s biggest hits, including “Ladies’ Night,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Celebration” that have now been embedded in many music connoisseurs’ minds. Listen to one of their biggest tunes below.
Photo: Andreas Lawen