Dennis ‘Dee Tee’ Thomas, Saxophonist for Kool & the Gang, Dies at 70
Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, saxophonist and founding member of Kool & the Gang, died in New Jersey on Saturday. He was 70 years old.
Mr Thomas died in his sleep, according to a statement from his representatives which did not specify the cause of his death or where he died in New Jersey.
Mr. Thomas was the co-founder of longtime band Kool & the Gang, known for hits such as “Celebration”, “Get Down on It” and “Jungle Boogie”. He saw the band, who experimented with sounds of soul, funk, jazz, pop and R&B, through many compositional changes.
Mr Thomas was a “big figure” in the group, his reps said, and he helped shape the artists’ wardrobes to make sure they “always look fresh.”
“Dennis was known as the quintessential cool cat of the group, loved for his trendy clothes and hats and his laid back demeanor,” the statement read.
The group won a Grammy Award in 1978, the decade in which several of their upbeat hits climbed the charts.
Back in the days when the band won a Grammy, they entered a slow period before adding a new singer, JT Taylor, and adapting their sound to match the disco sensibilities of the time. The group reappeared in 1979 with the smash “Ladies’ Night”, an ode to a night of party and dance.
The band members followed the success with the 1980 song “Celebration,” a timeless classic that embodied the group’s dynamic sound. The track has become a staple of sporting events and any other manifestation of joy and enthusiasm. The song was inducted into the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress, an honor reserved each year for 25 songs that showcase the rich heritage of American music.
The band members lent their voices to the 1984 charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” A number of the decade’s greatest artists recorded the track to draw attention to a famine in Ethiopia.
Mr. Thomas formed Kool & the Gang in 1964 with six of his friends: Robert Bell, known as Kool; Ronald Bell; Spike Mickens; Ricky Westfield; George Brown; and Charles Smith. They first called themselves the “Jazziacs”, according to the statement, before choosing the name “Kool & the Gang”, a nod to Robert Bell.
“We have learned that we have to simplify, that the simplest music will attract a large part of the audience,” Thomas told the New York Times in 1973 of the band’s choice of musical style. “Everyone in the band was a jazz musician at heart, but we knew we had to play R&B to make money.”
Mr Thomas was the group’s “budget hawk” at the start, his representatives said, adding that he could be seen “carrying the group’s earnings in a paper bag in the bell of his horn.”
Mr. Thomas’s alto saxophone solos have been featured on several of the band’s tracks. He also knew how to play the flute and percussion, and he was the master of ceremonies for the group’s shows.
Her last performance with the group was on July 4 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
Dennis Thomas was born February 9, 1951 in Orlando, Florida. He and his parents moved to Jersey City, NJ when he was 2, the Times reported in 1973. He grew up in the Lafayette section of town, where he met the other founding members of Kool & the Gang.
“We want to play universal music,” Thomas said in 1973. “We want to uplift our audience to think about what they’ve heard. “
The group had a dozen top 10 hits on the Billboard charts, and the group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2015.
Mr Thomas was married to Phynjuar Saunders Thomas and lived in Montclair, New Jersey, his representatives said.
One of her daughters, Michelle Thomas, was an actress on television shows including “The Cosby Show”, “Family Matters” and “The Young and the Restless”. She died in 1998 of cancer at the age of 30. He was also predeceased by another of his daughters, Tracy Jackson.
Besides his wife, he is survived by his daughter Tuesday Rankin; his sons David Thomas and Devin Thomas; his sisters Doris Mai McClary and Elizabeth Thomas Ross; his brother Bill Mcleary; an aunt and several nieces, nephews and grandchildren, the statement said.
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