Kool & the Gang Co-Founder Dennis ‘DT’ Thomas Dead at Age 70

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 01: Kool and the Gang, Dennis Thomas and Shawn McQuiller perform as part of the Van Halen 2012 North American tour at Staples Center on June 1, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

NEW YORK (AP) — Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, a founding member of the long-running soul-funk band Kool & the Gang known for such hits as “Celebration” and “Get Down On It,” has died. He was 70.

He died peacefully in his sleep Saturday in New Jersey, where he was a resident of Montclair, according to a statement from his representative.

Thomas was the alto sax player, flutist and percussionist. He served as master of ceremonies at the band’s shows. His last appearance with the group was July Fourth at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

NEW YORK - CIRCA MID 1970s: R&B group "Kool & the Gang" pose for a mid 1970's portrait at the Kriegsmann studios in New York City. Robert Bell (known as "Kool") on bass (b. October 8, 1950, Youngstown, Ohio) and Ronald Bell on tenor saxophone (b. November 1, 1951, Youngstown, Ohio); George Brown on drums (b. January 5, 1949); Robert Mickens on trumpet; Dennis Thomas on alto saxophone; Claydes Charles Smith on guitar (b. September 6, 1948, d. June 20, 2006), trombonist Clifford Adams, and Rick Westfield on keyboards. (Photo by James Kriegsmann/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

R&B group “Kool & the Gang” pose for a mid-1970s portrait at the Kriegsmann studios in New York City. Robert Bell (known as “Kool”) on bass (b. October 8, 1950, Youngstown, Ohio) and Ronald Bell on tenor saxophone (b. November 1, 1951, Youngstown, Ohio); George Brown on drums (b. January 5, 1949); Robert Mickens on trumpet; Dennis Thomas on alto saxophone; Claydes Charles Smith on guitar (b. September 6, 1948, d. June 20, 2006), trombonist Clifford Adams, and Rick Westfield on keyboards. (James Kriegsmann/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Born Feb. 9, 1951, in Orlando, Florida, Thomas was known for his prologue on the band’s 1971 hit, “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight.” Known for his hip clothes and hats, he was also the group’s wardrobe stylist. In the early days, he served as their “budget hawk,” carrying their earnings in a paper bag stuffed into the bell of his horn, the statement said.

In 1964, seven teen friends created the group’s unique bland of jazz, soul and funk, at first calling themselves the Jazziacs. They went through several iterations before settling on Kool & the Gang in 1969. The group’s other founders are brothers Ronald and Robert Bell, Spike Mickens, Ricky Westfield, George Brown and Charles Smith.

Ronald Bell died Sept. 9, 2020, at home in the U.S. Virgin Islands at age 68.

The band has earned 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 film sound tracks, including those for “Rocky,” “Saturday Night Fever” and “Pulp Fiction.”

Among those Thomas is survived by are his wife, Phynjuar Saunders Thomas, daughter Tuesday Rankin and sons David Thomas and Devin Thomas.

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