Ronald “Khalis” Bell, a co-founder, singer and producer of the group Kool & the Gang, has died. He was 68.
He started the band with his brother Robert “Kool” Bell in 1964.
They became one of the era’s most popular and influential soul and funk bands, with hits including Celebration, Ladies’ Night and Get Down On It.
Their music also featured in several films including Saturday Night Fever, for which they received a Grammy in 1978, and Pulp Fiction.
Bell died at his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands Wednesday morning with his wife by his side, publicist Sujata Murthy said. The cause of death has not been released.
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. After a brief downturn, the group enjoyed a return to stardom in the ’80s.
Bell started the group with his brother Robert “Kool” Bell along with neighborhood friends Dennis “D.T.” Thomas, Robert “Spike” Mickens, Charles Smith, George Brown and Ricky West.
Kool & the Gang won a Grammy in 1978 for their work on the soundtrack for “Saturday Night Fever.” The group was honored with a BET Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 and inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame four years later.
As a self-taught musician, Bell created his own signature sound using horn lines, bass and synthesizer.
Bell wrote and composed some of the group’s biggest songs including “Celebration,” “Cherish,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Summer Madness,” which was used in several films including “Rocky” and “Baby Boy.” The song was also used in a Nike shoe commercial in 2006 featuring LeBron James.
It was his “favourite song” from the band’s extensive back catalogue, he told the Reuters news agency in 2008.
“I had no clue, you know,” he said. “I was clueless, thinking that that was going to be a hit. I had no idea.
“But after all these years, there are times at the end of the show when I see all of these people singing a song, and after all of an hour and a half, you ask them to jump up and down and they still jump up and down. That’s kind of overwhelming for me.”
The group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2015 for their contribution to the world of entertainment, and were inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall Of Fame in 2018.
ell was born and raised in Ohio, and picked up the music bug from his father, a professional boxer who was a close friend of jazz musicians Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis.
Unable to afford drums, he and his brother taught themselves to play on makeshift instruments.
“I used to beat paint cans like bongos, and depending on how much paint was inside, this would determine the tone of the sounds we made,” he later recalled.
After the family moved to New Jersey in his teens, Bell’s mother bought him a real set of bongos and he began to teach himself bass guitar, borrowing an instrument from the brother of his future band-mate Robert “Spike” Mickens.
The first incarnation of Kool & The Gang formed in 1964, but they cycled through several names – including Jazziacs, The New Dimensions, The Soul Town Band, the Jazz Birds and Kool & the Flames before settling on their final moniker in 1969.
Along the way, they combined their love of jazz with the gritty rhythms of street funk, creating a sound that would lead to their success in the 1970s.
As the Jazz Birds, they won the Apollo Theater’s famed Amateur Night and landed a record deal with a small label called De-Lite Records.
Three singles from their self-titled debut album hit the pop charts, with the instrumental track Kool & The Gang showcasing their raucous, horn-driven sound.
Their mainstream breakthrough came with 1973’s Wild and Peaceful album. Lead single Funky Stuff became their first top 40 hit in the US, followed by Jungle Boogie and Hollywood Swinging, which both reached the top 10.
As disco rose to prominence, the band struggled to replicate their early success – although they did win a Grammy for Open Sesame, their contribution to the multi-million-selling Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
Things changed with the addition of Taylor, a former nightclub singer, and producer Eumir Deodato, which led to a cleaner, pop-driven sound and the crossover single Ladies’ Night.
The decision was prompted when the band found themselves on tour with the Jacksons and were told by the promoter that they needed a frontman. Taylor, chosen for his deep baritone “like Nat King Cole”, was the only singer they auditioned.
The group found a new generation of fans in the 80s and 90s as their music was sampled in a raft of pop and hip-hop songs.
The rise of hip-hop and the departure of Taylor in 1989 effectively ended Kool & The Gang’s presence on the charts, but Bell continued to record and tour with the group as a legacy act in the 1990s and 2000s.
Bell was working on a series of collaborations including a solo endeavor, “Kool Baby Brotha Band.” He also had plans of putting together a series of animated shorts called “Kool TV” about their childhood and career.
In an interview with Billboard last year, he said he felt grateful to have had a career in music.
The musician is survived by his wife Tia Sinclair Bell and 10 children; as well as his brother Robert and three other siblings. The family will hold a private funeral service, and have asked that fans donate to the children’s charity the Boys and Girls Club of America.