Kool & The Gang’s Dennis Thomas Dead At 70
Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, saxophonist and original member of the chart-topping funk and R&B group Kool & The Gang, has died, Variety reports. The band confirmed his passing on social media, writing, “Dennis was known as the quintessential cool cat in the group, loved for his hip clothes and hats, and his laid-back demeanor.” He passed away “peacefully in his sleep” at the age of 70.
Thomas formed the instrumental soul-jazz band the Jazziacs in 1964 with brothers Ronald “Khalis” Bell and Robert “Kool” Bell and several other friends from their Jersey City high school. By the time they released their self-titled debut album in 1969, they had settled on a new name: Kool & The Gang. After dabbling with funk and disco, they rose to fame with their 1973 album Wild And Peaceful, but their commercial peak came a few years later when they brought James “J.T.” Taylor in as a dedicated lead vocalist.
“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,” the band’s tribute reads. “Dennis’ prologue featured on the groups 1971 hit, ‘Who’s Gonna Take the Weight’ is legendary and an example of his showmanship. Dee Tee was 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.”
Thomas played on every Kool & the Gang studio album, including their upcoming album Perfect Union, which is out later this month. He just performed with the band at their Los Angeles show at the Hollywood Bowl on July 4. He is survived by his wife Phynjuar Saunders Thomas, 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 his nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.