×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Kool & the Gang Honored With a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

After 50 years and 23 albums, the legacy of Kool & the Gang has become so much a part of our national fabric it’s hard to remember a time when their music wasn’t a perpetual party anthem source, blasted at bar mitzvahs and weddings and high school graduations. In 1981, the band’s dance-floor juggernaut “Celebration” took on monumental historical value when it was played as the American hostages returned home from Iran. Even today there are kids who may not know who Kool & the Gang is, but they know their songs, a hefty catalog of funk-jazz-R&B-pop fusions like “Ladies’ Night,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Get Down on It” that remain evergreen favorites at life-cycle events and other happy occasions.

Formed in 1964 in Jersey City, N.J., by then-teenage brothers Robert “Kool” Bell and Ronald “Khalis” Bell and neighborhood buddies Robert “Spike” Mickens, Dennis “D.T.” Thomas, Ricky West, George Brown and Charles Smith, the group is scheduled to receive its star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Oct. 8. Morphing over the years, they were first the Jazziacs, then the New Dimensions and then Kool & the Flames (which hewed too close to James Brown and the Famous Flames) before finally settling on their current name.

Since its debut release, 1969’s eponymous “Kool & the Gang,” the two-time Grammy-winning group has sold over 70 million records worldwide.

But no one was more taken aback by the massive popularity of its trademark hits than the band members themselves.

“I had no idea that ‘Celebration’ would turn out to be as popular as it is,” says tenor saxophonist Ronald “Khalis” Bell. “When we were writing it, I was inspired by a Scripture reading in which the creator is creating this human being and (the human beings) are praising Him for doing that, so that’s where the original inspiration came for that. You know, ‘Everyone around the world come on….’ Everyone has a reason to celebrate something.”

But like all collaborative efforts in pop music history, there were myriad influences in all of Kool’s songs (the ballad “Joanna,” off 1983’s “In the Heart,” was based on Smith’s mother; “Ladies Night” was inspired by Studio 54).

“ ‘Celebration’ came from the American Music Awards,” says Brown, the group’s percussionist. “We had won the American Music Award — we had won a couple of them that evening — and it was sort of a celebration because it was a great night for us. We were on a tour bus and we started to come up with the idea for the song. It wasn’t contrived for weddings and bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. We were just coming home and it was just something we felt we wanted to do.”

Along with a collective passion for “music from the heart,” what’s kept the band going these past five decades is its ability to adapt to the ever-changing ebb and flow of the music industry. Certain members of the band have come and gone, but the group as a whole always remained intact, experimenting with an artistic open-mindedness. Whether sharing a stage with Richie Havens or Ray Charles or Sammy Davis Jr. or Van Halen — with whom Kool & the Gang toured in 2012 — the group has reinvented itself many times over.

The band’s signature horn arrangements gave way to the more rock-oriented sound on its 1984 album “Emergency,” from which the singles “Fresh” and “Cherish” landed at top spots on the charts. In 1981, Kool & the Gang even lured Marvin Gaye out of his self-imposed exile in Belgium to play with them in London. (“To this day he’s my idol,” says Brown. “It was an incredible thing.”)

“I listen to all types of music, be it hip-hop or jazz or rock ’n’ roll, and we have tried over the years to come up with a good title and a good song and it becomes whatever that is,” says Robert Bell.

“Our music is universal, I think,” adds Ronald Bell. “It’s got pieces of rock, pop, R & B, jazz, hip-hop — everybody around the world loves it.”

Perhaps coolest of all, according to some sources, Kool & the Gang is currently sampled on hip-hop records more often than any other musical act, with excerpts appearing on rap songs by artists such as Heavy D, Das EFX, the Beastie Boys and Ice Cube.

“I became the most sampled drummer in history,” says Brown. “I always love what people do when they use our music. It’s an honor whenever someone covers us.”

As it charges into the next decade following an enviable half-century run, Kool & the Gang has no plans to stop making music. Various members are working on multiple projects, including a memoir about the group and a stage musical tentatively called “It’s a Celebration.” Ronald Bell is also spearheading a project to re-record the band’s entire catalog using new technology that will eventually be released as a box set titled “Legacy: The Collective Genius of a Band Called Kool & the Gang.”

“Our core band, the four of us, we’re the survivors,” says Bell. “We’ve lost three members from the original, and then JT (Taylor) came and he left to pursue a solo career, but other than that, we’ve never left. With us it’s always been about the music. We still travel, we still tour around the world and we’re still making music. We just love the music and we like each other pretty much. Of course, that’s not to say we don’t have our differences. We agree to disagree and 50 years later we’re still here.”

More Music

  • Obit Obituary Placeholder

    Nick Tosches, Author of Dean Martin and Jerry Lee Lewis Biographies, Dies at 69

    Some time around the turn of the century, author Nick Tosches prankishly hacked his own online biography so that it gave his death date as the year 2021 — picked, he said, because “it was the anniversary of Dante’s death (in 1321); it made so much sense.” He wasn’t too many years off with that [...]

  • Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike

    Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike Take No. 1 Spot on Top 100 DJs Poll

    The duo of Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike top DJ Mag’s 2019 Top 100 DJs poll, returning to the list since taking the No. 1 spot in 2015 and dethroning Martin Garrix after three years of dominance. The results of the Top 100 DJs were arrived at from 1.3 million votes cast in 179 countries. [...]

  • Bruce Springsteen arrives for the New

    Bruce Springsteen Returns to NJ Hometown for Surprise 'Western Stars' Introduction

    Bruce Springsteen returned to his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey to offer a surprise introduction to the first public multiplex viewing of his concert/documentary film, “Western Stars.” Dressed simply in a brown jacket, Springsteen took a moment to say a few words at the AMC Freehold 14 movie theater on Saturday night. “We knew we [...]

  • Marc Byers

    Execs from Motown, Live Nation, Recording Academy Set to Speak at Culture Creators' Inaugural C2 Summit

    Culture Creators, the organization which recognizes minorities in film, television, music and fashion, is holding its first-ever C2 Summit on Oct. 21 in Washington D.C. Its mission: to engage, mentor, and provide recruitment opportunities to students of color attending historically black colleges and universities. Students were selected from an application process and will participate in [...]

  • Rami Dawod SESAC

    SESAC Toasts Rami Dawod as Pop Songwriter of the Year

    Camila Cabello’s “Never Be The Same” and “Electricity” by Mark Ronson and Silk City featuring Dua Lipa are just a few of the co-writing credits celebrated during an October 16 dinner at Nobu Malibu hosted by SESAC in honor of Rami Dawod. Named Pop Songwriter of the Year by the performance rights organization, Dawod is [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content