Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 September 2020

Ronald Bell, co-founder of Kool and the Gang, dies aged 68

The musician was behind some of the band's most recognisable hits, including 'Celebration'

Ronald Bell of Kool & the Gang, pictured in 2014, has died aged 68. EPA
Ronald Bell of Kool & the Gang, pictured in 2014, has died aged 68. EPA

Ronald Bell, co-founder of funk group Kool & the Gang, has died aged 68.

The performer, who co-wrote hits including Celebration, Jungle Boogie and Ladies' Night, passed away at his home in the US Virgin Islands on Wednesday, September 9.

A cause of death has not been given.

Bell passed away with his wife, Tia Sinclair, by his side, publicist Sujata Murthy told the Daily Mail.

Ohio-born Bell founded disco favourites Kool & the Gang with his brother Robert and friends Dennis Thomas, Robert Mickens, Charles Smith, George Brown and Ricky West in the early 1960s, fusing a foundation of jazz with smatterings of funk, R&B and pop.

The group became a major smash in the 1970s, with their brassy funk putting them in a class with Earth, Wind and Fire, the Isley Brothers and Sly and the Family Stone.

Kool & the Gang scored a Grammy in 1978 for their contributions to the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta, and were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018.

In 2015, Kool & the Gang were honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.

Bell, who followed the Islamic faith, was also known as Khalis Bayyan.

A self-taught musician, he wrote some of the ensemble's major hits including Celebration, which is still a popular anthem at sporting events.

The group remain a DJ favourite and are heavily sampled especially in the rap world, with tracks appearing in songs by artists including Jay-Z, Nas, NWA, Tupac, Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, A Tribe Called Quest and Busta Rhymes.

Influence from around the globe, including Arab world

Speaking to The National in 2014, Bell revealed that the band, which toured consistently for 50 years, incorporated elements of many genres into their music.

"We travel so much that we marry a lot of different cultures into our music. Our music is not just funk, it has pop, rock, country and a lot of other things," he said. "For example, one of our songs, Open Sesame [the title track from the 1976 album], has some musical scales synonymous with music from the Arab region."

He also revealed that while Kool & the Gang would play their biggest hits for fans, they would try to shake things up after decades of singing the same material.

"We can get bored playing the same thing, but at the same time, people want to hear what they want to hear – songs such as Fresh and Jungle Boogie," he said. "The challenge is to play with the song a bit, but not to take it too far from its original style."

Bell is survived by his wife and 10 children.

- Additional reporting by AFP

Updated: September 10, 2020 12:33 PM

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