Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, saxophonist and co-founder of Kool & the Gang, has died. The musician passed away in his sleep on Saturday in New Jersey at the age of 70, a spokesperson confirmed.
Born in February 1951, in Orlando, Thomas was among seven teens who helped form the New Jersey band, famous for its blend of jazz, soul and funk, in 1964. He did it along with brothers Robert “Kool” Bell and Ronald Bell, Robert “Spike” Mickens, Charles Smith, George Brown and Ricky West. Initially dubbing themselves the Jazziacs, the ensemble went through several name changes before settling on Kool & the Gang in 1969. That same year the group was signed to De-Lite Records and released their debut self-titled album.
“Dee Tee” served as the band’s alto saxophone player, flutist, percussionist and master of ceremonies at the group’s shows, and most recently appeared with the award-winning group at the Hollywood Bowl in L.A. on July 4. Within the band, Thomas was a man of many hats, serving as the group’s wardrobe stylist and in its early days, their “budget hawk,” with the Saxophonist carrying the band’s earnings within a paper bag in the bell of his horn. Thomas was described as “the quintessential cool cat in the group” in the spokesperson’s statement, with a “huge personality” despite being “an extremely private person.”
Following their debut album, Kool & the Gang released two more before Thomas and the rest of the band began their long journey with fame with 1973’s Wild and Peaceful, which featured top 10 singles “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging.”
Performing and touring together for 50 years, the group counts singles like “Celebration,” “Cherish” and “Summer Madness” among their biggest songs with other tracks also notably appearing on several movie soundtracks, including Rocky and Pulp Fiction. According to the group’s spokesperson, the band is among one of the most sampled groups of all time. The band’s entire discography, which includes 1979’s Ladies’ Night, 1980’s Celebrate! and 1984’s Emergency, features 31 gold and platinum albums.
Kool & the Gang has earned two Grammy Awards and seven American Music Awards, in addition to being inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, receiving the Soul Train Legend Award and having a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, among other honors.
Thomas’ death follows the passing of fellow Kool & the Gang co-founder Khalis’ Bell, who died at 68 in September.