Another music legend is gone as Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas has reportedly passed away. A co-founder of the famous soul-funk group Kool & the Gang, Thomas died peacefully in his sleep in New Jersey on Saturday. He had just recently performed with Kool & the Gang at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on July 4 and his death comes as a shock for fans. Thomas was 70 years old.
Thomas is best known for forming Kool & The Gang with the original group members in 1964 when they were first called the Jazziacs. Consisting of seven friends from school playing together, the group featured Thomas on saxophone, Robert “Kool” Bell on bass, Ronald Bell on keyboards, Robert “Spike” Mickens on trumpet, Ricky West on keyboards, George Brown on drums, and Charles Smith on guitar. Several name changes later, they officially became Kool & the Gang in 1969, debuting their first album under that name in 1970.
A press release announcing Thomas’s death describes the musician as “the quintessential cool cat in the group, loved for his hip clothes and hats, and his laid-back demeanor. He is also credited with coming up with the intro to their hit 1971 song, “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight.” Some of the group’s other most popular singles include “Jungle Boogie,” “Hollywood Swinging,” Ladies’ Night,” “Celebration,” “Get Down on It,” “Joanna,” “Misled,” and “Cherish.”
Over the decades, Kool & the Gang have garnered numerous accolades with 70 million albums sold worldwide. They have won two Grammys and seven American Music Awards, along with the Soul Train Legend Award and the Marian Anderson Award. The group was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame and also has their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Kool & the Gang still continues to perform, though only Robert “Kool” Bell and George Brown are now the only surviving co-founding members.
The use of some of Kool & the Gang’s best songs in movies have further contributed to their popularity. The soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever included “Open Sesame.” Decades later, “Jungle Boogie” was famously featured on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack in 1994 along with the soundtrack for Undercover Brother in 2002. “Summer Madness” can be heard in the original Rocky and was later featured in 2001’s Baby Boy. The song “Hollywood Swinging” was also present in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and featured in the movie Roll Bounce.
More recently, Thomas was interviewed for “Kool TV,” a series of animated shorts about each member of the band’s childhood and career. Along with other members of the group, Thomas explains the history of the group and how jazz united them all together. The videos can all be watched on the Kool & the Gang YouTube page which also includes backstage footage and performances from live events.
Thomas is preceded in death by his mother, Elizabeth Lee Thomas, sister Darlene Thomas, and daughters Michelle Thomas and Tracy Jackson. The late musician is survived by his wife Phynjuar Saunders Thomas along with his daughter, Tuesday Rankin; sons David Thomas and Devin Thomas; aunt Mary “Duggie” Jones; sisters Doris Mai McClary and Elizabeth Thomas Ross; brother Bill Mcleary; and many nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.
Our thoughts are with the Thomas family at this painful time. May Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas rest in peace as his legacy lives on. This news comes to us from Variety.