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Kool & the Gang co-founder Dennis 'Dee Tee' Thomas dies at 70

Thomas' last appearance with the band was when they kicked off the 2021 season of the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles for the Fourth of July.
Kool & The Gang Live In Concert
Dennis 'Dee Tee' Thomas of Kool & the Gang performs at the Regal Theater in Chicago, August 1988.Raymond Boyd / Getty Images file

Dennis "Dee Tee" Thomas, a co-founder of the group Kool & the Gang, died Saturday in his sleep, a spokesperson said. He was 70.

"An original member of Kool & the Gang, Dennis was known as the quintessential cool cat in the group, loved for his hip clothes and hats, and his laid-back demeanor," the spokesperson said in a statement. "A huge personality while also an extremely private person, Dennis was the alto saxophone player, flutist, percussionist as well as master of ceremonies at the band’s shows."

His prologue was featured on Kool & the Gang's 1971 hit, “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight.”

Thomas' death comes nearly a year after co-founder Ronald 'Khalis' Bell died in September 2020 at the age of 68.

Kool & the Gang grew from jazz roots in the 1960s to become one of the major groups of the 1970s, blending jazz, funk, R&B and pop. Thomas started the band with Bell, Bell's brother, Robert “Kool” Bell, and neighborhood friends Robert “Spike” Mickens, Charles Smith, George Brown and Ricky West. After a brief downturn, the group enjoyed a return to stardom in the ’80s.

Throughout the group's more than 50-year history, Kool & the Gang earned two Grammy Awards and seven American Music Awards. The group has had more than 20 top 10 R&B hits, nine top 10 pop hits and 31 gold and platinum albums.

The group's biggest songs included “Celebration,” “Cherish,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Summer Madness." Their funk and jazzy arrangements led to them becoming the most sampled band of all time, the spokesperson said in the statement. The band's music has also been featured on numerous soundtracks including "Rocky," "Saturday Night Fever" and "Pulp Fiction."

Kool & the Gang was honored with a Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 and received a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame the following year. The band was included in installations at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and at the Grammy Museum in Newark, New Jersey."Celebration" was inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2020.

Thomas, born Feb. 9, 1951, in Orlando, Florida, was remembered as the group's "wardrobe stylist who made sure they always looked fresh."

"In the band’s early days, Dennis also served as the 'budget hawk', carrying the group’s earnings in a paper bag in the bell of his horn," the statement read.

His last appearance with the band was when they kicked off the 2021 season of the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles for the Fourth of July.

He is survived by his wife, Phynjuar Saunders Thomas, his children and several other family members.