Kool & the Gang’s Ronald ‘Khalis’ Bell Dies at 68

The singer, writer and producer was credited on the band's biggest hits, including "Celebration" and "Cherish."

Ronald Khalis Bell
Courtesy of Tia Sinclair Bell

Kool & the Gang co-founder Ronald “Khalis” Bell, who was credited as a writer and producer on the group’s biggest hits — among them: 1980’s “Celebration” and 1985’s “Cherish” — died Wednesday at his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands, his wife and agent Tia Sinclair Bell said in a statement. He was 68. The cause of death has not been revealed.

Bell was a driving force behind Kool & the Gang, composing, arranging, producing and performing with the group which saw success in multiple decades over 50 years. In addition to the aforementioned earworms of our time, other hits by the band included “Get Down On It,” “Joanna” and “Fresh.”

In 1964, Bell and his brother Robert “Kool” formed a band with Dennis “D.T.” Thomas, Robert “Spike” Mickens, Charles Smith, George Brown, and Ricky West. They went through several iterations as the Jazziacs, the New Dimensions, the Soul Town Band and Kool & the Flames before Kool & the Gang was launched blending jazz, soul and funk sounds.

Kool & the Gang performed continuously longer than any R&B group in history. The band, who won two Grammy Awards, also appeared alongside Kid Rock, Dave Matthews Band, Elton John and the Roots, and performed on a 50-city tour with rock legends Van Halen.

Their music is featured on the soundtracks to “Rocky,” “Saturday Night Fever” and “Pulp Fiction.” “Celebration” is also regarded among the most popular wedding songs of all-time.

In addition to keeping pace with the road, Bell devoted much of his life to songwriting and producing for Kool & the Gang as well as developing new acts. Among them: The Fugees, known as Tranzlator Crew when they worked with Bell on their debut album, “Blunted On Reality.”

In 2014, Kool & the Gang was honored with a BET Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award. In October 2015, in the town they sing about in one of their earliest hits, “Hollywood Swinging,” Kool & the Gang was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The band released music as recently as 2016. In 2018, they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

At the time of his death, Bell was in the midst of a series of collaborations including his solo endeavor, “Kool Baby Brotha Band.” He was also working on “Kool TV,” a series of animated shorts about the group’s career.

Bell is survived by 10 children, Kahdijah, Rasheed, Nadirah, Liza, Maryam, Aminah, Jennah, Khalis, Asia and James; grandchildren; brothers Robert “Kool” Bell, Wahid Bayyan and Amir Bayyan, and sister Sharifah Bayyan, in addition to his wife.