NEW YORK (AP) – Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, founding member of longtime soul-funk band Kool & the Gang known for hits such as “Celebration” and “Get Down On It”, has passed away. He was 70 years old.
He died peacefully in his sleep on Saturday in New Jersey, where he resided in Montclair, according to a statement from his representative.
Thomas was the alto saxophonist, flautist and percussionist. He served as master of ceremonies during the group’s performances. His last appearance with the group was on July 4 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
Born February 9, 1951 in Orlando, Florida, Thomas was known for his prologue to the band’s 1971 hit, “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight”. Known for his trendy clothes and hats, he was also the group’s wardrobe stylist. At first, he served as a “budget hawk,” carrying their earnings in a paper bag stuffed into the bell of his horn, the statement said.
In 1964, seven teenage friends formed the unique jazz, soul and funk group, first calling themselves the Jazziacs. They went through several iterations before settling on Kool & the Gang in 1969. The other founders of the group are brothers Ronald and Robert Bell, and Spike Mickens, Ricky Westfield, George Brown and Charles Smith.
The group has won two Grammy Awards and seven American Music Awards. They were honored in 2014 with a Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award. Their music is heavily sampled and featured on movie soundtracks, including those of “Rocky”, “Saturday Night Fever” and “Pulp Fiction”.
Among those who survive Thomas are his wife, Phynjuar Saunders Thomas, his daughter Tuesday Rankin, and his sons David Thomas and Devin Thomas.
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