Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, a co-founder of soul-funk outfit Kool & the Gang, died on Saturday, his reps confirmed to Variety. He was 70.
According to a press release, Thomas died “peacefully in his sleep” in New Jersey. Thomas had just performed with Kool & the Gang at their Los Angeles show at the Hollywood Bowl, which kicked off its 2021 season on July 4.
Thomas was an original member of the group, in which he played alto saxophone, flute, percussion and served as the “master of ceremonies” during the band’s concerts. Thomas “was known as the quintessential cool cat in the group, loved for his hip clothes and hats, and his laid-back demeanor,” the press release states. He was credited for coming up with the intro to their 1971 hit, “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight.”
Born on Feb. 9, 1951 in Orlando, Fla., Thomas co-founded Kool & the Gang in 1964 alongside brothers Ronald Bell and Robert “Kool” Bell, and friends Spike Mickens, Ricky Westfield, George Brown and Charles Smith. First calling themselves the Jazziacs, the band created their own fusion of jazz, R&B, soul and funk and eventually became Kool & the Gang in 1969.
Throughout the band’s legendary career, it has earned two Grammys and seven American Music Awards and has become the most sampled band of all time. They have sold over 70 million albums worldwide, and have produced 25 Top 10 R&B hits. Their most recent album, “Perfect Union,” was released this year and the band continues to perform.
In 2014, the band earned the Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award, and was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame the following year. Most recently, Thomas was interviewed for “Kool TV,” a series of animated shorts about each band member’s childhood and career. Thomas’ fellow Kool & the Gang co-founder, Ronald Bell, died in September 2020.
Thomas was a longtime resident of Montclair, N.J. and was married to Phynjuar Saunders Thomas. He is predeceased by his mother Elizabeth Lee Thomas, sister Darlene Thomas and his daughters, Michelle Thomas and Tracy Jackson. In addition to his wife Phynjuar, Thomas is survived by 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.
“We’re deeply saddened by the loss of Kool & the Gang co-founder Dennis Thomas,” said Warner Chappell Music co-chair and CEO Guy Moot and co-chair and COO Carianne Marshall in a statement. “He was a member of the Grammy-winning band for an incredible 57 of his 70 years, from their formation in 1964 until his passing this past Saturday. As the band said in a statement, he was ‘the quintessential cool cat in the group, loved for his hip clothes and hats, and his laid-back demeanor.'”
The statement continues: “The group’s saxophonist, flutist, percussionist, and master of ceremonies, Dennis also co-wrote most of the band’s biggest hits, including ‘Celebration,’ ‘Jungle Boogie,’ ‘Ladies Night,’ ‘Hollywood Swinging,’ ‘Cherish,’ ‘Stone Love,’ his signature song — ‘Who’s Gonna Take the Weight,’ and many others. The group grew from their jazz roots to incorporate R&B, soul, funk, and pop into a trademark, irresistible, boundary-smashing style that earned them a stream of gold and platinum awards, with some 70 million albums sold worldwide. Dennis played on every one of Kool & the Gang’s recordings, from their debut in 1969 to their upcoming 25th studio album. His last performance with the band was July 4th at the Hollywood Bowl, and his death follows the passing of fellow co-founder and saxophonist Ronald ‘Khalis’ Bell last September. Our thoughts are with his bandmates, family, friends, and millions of fans during this difficult time.”