Kool & The Gang founding member Dennis Thomas dies aged 70

Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, saxophonist and one of the co-founders of soul-funk band Kool & The Gang, has died aged 70.

A statement from his representative said he died peacefully in his sleep on Saturday in New Jersey, where he was a resident of the town of Montclair.

Thomas enjoyed a music career that spanned almost 60 years as an alto sax player, flutist and percussionist in Kool & The Gang, known for mega hits including Celebration and Get Down On It.

His last appearance with the group was on 4 July at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

George Brown, Ronald Bell, Dennis Thomas and Robert 'Kool' Bell of Kool & The Gang in 2014
Image:George Brown, Ronald Bell, Dennis Thomas and Robert ‘Kool’ Bell of Kool & The Gang in 2014

Born on 9 February 1951, in Orlando, Florida, Thomas was known for his prologue on the band’s 1971 hit, Who’s Gonna Take The Weight.

He was also famed for his hip clothes and hats and served as the group’s wardrobe stylist, as well as their “budget hawk” in the early days, carrying their earnings in a paper bag stuffed into the bell of his horn.

In 1964, Thomas was one of seven teenage friends who created the group’s unique blend of jazz, soul and funk – first calling themselves the Jazziacs.

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They eventually settled on calling the group Kool & The Gang in 1969.

The other founders are brothers Ronald and Robert Bell, and Spike Mickens, Ricky Westfield, George Brown and Charles Smith.

Kool & The Gang won a slew of honours during their long-standing career, including two Grammy Awards and seven American Music Awards.

The saxophonist died peacefully in his sleep, according to a statement from his rep
Image:The saxophonist died peacefully in his sleep, according to a statement from his representative
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In 2014, they were honoured with a Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award. Their music is also featured on several film soundtracks, such as those for Rocky, Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction.

Thomas is survived by are his wife, Phynjuar Saunders Thomas, daughter Tuesday Rankin, and sons David Thomas and Devin Thomas.

Fans have been paying tribute to the star on social media, with one tweeting: “Loved this group. RIP Dennis Thomas. Prayers and condolences to the family.”

Another said: “Thank you, Dennis Thomas, for the music that got us through.”

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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