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KOOL AND THE GANG THE PLATINUM BAND

Updated: Sep 28, 2022


Kool & the Gang became one of the most inspired and influential funk units during the '70s, and one of the most popular R&B groups of the '80s after their breakout hit "Celebration." Just as funky as James Brown or Parliament (and sampled almost as frequently), Kool & the Gang relied on their jazz backgrounds and long friendship to form a tightly knit group with the interplay and improvisation of a jazz outfit, plus the energy and spark of a band with equal ties to soul, R&B, and funk. Their 21 Top 40 hits exhibit uncommon range, from the tough funk of "Jungle Boogie," to the smooth instrumental soul of "Summer Madness," to the lively pop of "Joanna." As an album act, they've been just as successful, having hit the Top Ten of the R&B chart with a dozen LPs that include the gold Wild and Peaceful (1973), the all-platinum run of Ladies' Night (1979), Celebrate! (1980), Something Special (1981), and Emergency (1984), and the gold Forever (1986). Since the '90s, they've focused most on touring, though they've occasionally put together sets of original material such as Still Kool (2007) and Perfect Union (2021). The latter album was finished before the death of Ronald Bell and released mere weeks after the death of Dennis "D.T." Thomas. Fellow co-founders Robert "Kool" Bell and George "Funky" Brown continue to lead the band.


Robert ''Kool'' Bell (aka Muhammad Bayyan) and his brother Ronald (aka Khalis Bayyan) grew up in Jersey City and picked up the music bug from their father, who was a professional boxer, serious jazz lover, and close friend of Thelonious Monk. With Robert on bass and Ronald picking up an array of horns, the duo formed the Jazziacs in 1964 with several neighborhood friends: guitarist Claydes Smith, trumpeter Robert "Spike" Mickens, alto saxophonist Dennis "D.T." Thomas, keyboard player Ricky West (aka Richard Westfield), and drummer George "Funky" Brown. The growing earthiness of soul inspired the Jazziacs to temper their jazz sensibilities with rhythms more akin to R&B, and the newly renamed Soul Town Band began playing clubs in Greenwich Village.


Kool & the Gang's sixth LP, Wild and Peaceful, that they hit the big time. "Funky Stuff" became their first Top 40 hit at the end of 1973. Then both "Jungle Boogie" and "Hollywood Swinging" reached the Top Ten. Over the next four years, Kool & the Gang delivered a Grammy-nominated recording with Light of Worlds (in the category of Best R&B Instrumental Performance) and scored the Top 40 hits "Higher Plane" and "Spirit of the Boogie." They lost Ricky West to a solo flight and added some of their longest-serving brass players, namely trumpeter Larry Gittens and trombonist Clifford Adams. Also during this period, "Open Sesame" appeared on the Grammy-winning Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, yet the rise of disco -- a movement centered around producers and vocalists, in direct contrast to the group's focus on instrumentalists -- appeared to end their popularity.


Kool & the Gang's only number one hit, "Celebration," an anthem favored by innumerable wedding receptions since. With Deodato, the group produced several more hits, including the singles "Take My Heart (You Can Have It if You Want It)," "Get Down on It," and "Big Fun," and the albums Something Special in 1981 and As One a year later.




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