Singer and musician Ronald Bell, who founded the iconic funk and R&B group Kool & The Gang with his brother Robert, died on Tuesday, the New York Daily News reports. A publicicist confirmed the news, saying that he died suddenly at his Virgin Islands home with his wife Tia Sinclair Bell. No cause of death has been revealed. He was 68.
Bell was drawn to jazz music from an early age, teaching himself how to play saxophone by copying his father’s musician friends’ records. When he was 14, Bell and his brother Robert “Kool” Bell formed an instrumental soul-jazz band called the Jazziacs with a number of high school friends in Jersey City. By 1969, after trying on a few different names and styles, they had settled on Kool & The Gang and solidified a harder R&B sound.
In addition to playing keybards and sax, Bell became the band’s primary composer and arranger. They scored a few minor hits before their 1973 commercial breakthrough Wild And Peaceful. But with the rise of disco, Kool & The Gang began to decline in popularity — until 1979, when they brought in Brazilian musician Eumir Deodato as their new producer and singer James “J.T.” Taylor as a dedicated lead vocalist.
Kool & The Gang went on to release a string of hugely successful albums including Ladies’ Night, Celebrate!, Something Special, and Emergency. We’ve written about their 1981 #1 hit “Celebration” in our Number Ones column, and Bell also wrote other iconic songs like “Get Down On It,” “Summer Madness,” and “Cherish.”
Kool & the Gang have won two Grammys, seven American Music Awards, and a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, and the Bells were inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 2018. Bell, who also went by his Muslim name Khalis Bayyan, is survived by his wife and his 10 children. Revisit some of his work below.