Ronald Bell, co-founder of Kool & the Gang, has died at age 68

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Ronald Bell of Kool & the Gang in 2017
Ronald Bell of Kool and the Gang performing onstage at Gabrielle's Angel Foundation's Angel Ball 2017 at Cipriani Wall Street on October 23, 2017 in New York City. (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Ronald Bell of Kool & the Gang has died at home at the age of 68. No cause of death was given.

Together with his brother Robert and five of their school friends — Dennis Thomas, Robert Mickens, Charles Smith, George Brown and Ricky West — singer and saxophonist Ronald Bell co-founded Kool & the Gang in 1964. They released their first album in 1970, and with a string of hits beginning in 1973, the music of Kool and the Gang has lifted spirits and filled dance floors for nearly five decades.

"Growing up, Kool & the Gang were a very popular band in my household," says Derrick Stevens, production manager at The Current and a host on Purple Current. "One of the first songs I remember singing as a five-year-old kid was 'Jungle Boogie,' a song from their 1973 album Wild and Peaceful."

"I grew up listening to Kool & the Gang!" says Sanni Brown, co-host on The Message and also a host on Purple Current. "The two songs that Mama played all the time were 'Fresh' and 'Victory.' I just discovered that we play 'Victory' on Purple Current, and it was a pleasure to play this song for Mama after hearing it on the stream while I was programming.

"It gave me a small moment where I got to remind Mama about how 'spicy' she was when I was young," Brown continues, "and it reminded me of better times with my family before all the crappy stuff with Immigration, Deportation, Homelessness, and Foster Care kicked in."

Musicians and siblings Ronald and Robert Bell were born in Ohio. Their father was a professional boxer who trained in New York, where he befriended jazz musicians Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis. Inspired by the music their father shared with them, the young Ronald and Robert Bell began to pursue music on their own, beginning by learning drumming on paint cans. "I used to beat paint cans like bongos," Bell recalled, as reported by BBC News. "Depending on how much paint was inside, this would determine the tone of the sounds we made."

Eventually the Bell family relocated to Jersey City, N.J., where Bell's mother bought him a set of bongos and the Bell brothers would meet the friends with whom they would start their band. Although the band began in earnest in 1964, they cycled through several names before landing on Kool & the Gang in the late '60s. Their debut, self-titled album followed in 1970, its sound characterized by the band's love of jazz fused with funk. "We used to play a lot of percussion in the streets in the 60s, go to the park and start beating on drums and stuff in the street," Bell told Rolling Stone in 2015. "You had a hard time trying to get us to play R&B. We were die-hard jazz musicians."

Kool & the Gang's 1973 album, Wild and Peaceful, catapulted the band up the charts with hits like "Funky Stuff" and "Jungle Boogie." The latter song's inclusion in Quentin Tarantino's film Pulp Fiction gave the track a second life 20 years later.

The band's fortunes certainly continued in the intervening years and into the present. In the '80s, they enjoyed great success and popularity with songs like "Celebration," "Joanna,""Steppin' Out," "Get Down On It" — currently their most-streamed track on Spotify — and "Cherish."

"In 1985, as a 17-year-old," Stevens recalls, "I thought I was in love until she broke my heart, and my go-to song was 'Cherish' by Kool & the Gang."

In the late 1980s and following, Kool & the Gang garnered even more fans as their music was sampled by hip-hop artists. For example, "Summer Madness" provided a foundation for "Summertime" by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince; and the beat of "Jungle Jazz" can be heard on MARRS's "Pump Up The Volume" and many other tracks.

Perhaps most notably, Public Enemy sampled three Kool & the Gang songs for their 1990 album, Fear of a Black Planet. "After Public Enemy, I was all in [with hip-hop]," Bell told Rolling Stone in 2015. "The music was all new to me. I sat and listened to Fear of a Black Planet and was thrilled. I thought that was amazing. You can practically hear [Kool & the Gang drummer] George [Brown] playing that break beat. You can hear our music in the background. You know it was compound and compact, but you can hear Kool & the Gang music in all that hip-hop."

One of the band's most enduringly beloved songs is "Celebration," a song whose origins Ronald Bell credits to some divine inspiration. "I was reading the scripture about where God called the angels together and made an announcement that he was going to create the human being," Bell told Songwriter Universe in 2016. "[The angels] said, 'We don't know nothin', but we just celebrate you, God — we celebrate and praise you.' And I thought, Wow … That's big! … That's where I got the song 'Celebration' from. I thought, I'm going to write a song about that, [with the line] 'Everyone around the world — Come on!' That's the intent [of this song] … that it was actually written for mankind.

"That was the initial idea behind it," Bell continued, as he was always quick to credit the entire band for their songs. "Of course, it became a collaboration, and everyone joined in."

More recently, Bell had been working on a solo album, Kool Baby Brotha Band, while collaborating on an animated series, KoolTV, which chronicles the band's early years. This is the first episode of that series:

To date, Kool & the Gang have sold more than 70 million albums, and 31 of their albums have registered gold or platinum. "At Stevens family functions where there is music being played," Derrick Stevens says, "I can guarantee you'll hear a jam by Kool & the Gang on the playlist. Their music is timeless, their groove is universal, and I will forever be a fan.

"Rest in peace, Ronald Bell, and thank you for the many years of wonderful music."

Ronald Bell is survived by his wife Tia Sinclair Bell and their 10 children.

External Link

Kool & the Gang - official site

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