Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, founding member of iconic soul and funk band Kool & The Gang, died peacefully at the age of 70 in his home in New Jersey, the group said in an announcement.
Thomas was born in 1951 in Orlando, Florida, and formed his first band in 1964 — The Jazzies — with seven of his teenage friends: brothers Ronald Bell and Robert “Kool” Bell, Spike Mickens, Ricky Westfield, George Brown and Charles Smith.
The group infused their jazz, blues, soul and funk influence and eventually become the influential Kool & The Gang in 1969.
They went on to win two Grammy Awards, seven American Music Awards, 25 top-10 R&B hits, 9 top-10 pop hits and 31 platinum albums with major hits such as “Get Down On It,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Celebration.”
Thomas was an accomplished musician on several different instruments including the alto saxophone, flute, and percussion. He was also known as the group’s wardrobe director, giving the band its distinct, funky look and the emcee of their live performances.
Thomas played his final show with the band at a July 4, 2021 concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
He was described by a spokesperson as “a huge personality while also an extremely private person.”
He was a longtime resident of Montclair, New Jersey.
“Celebration” was inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, Class of 2020, on March 24, 2021.
The band’s music has also been featured in the films Rocky, Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction and continues to be heavily sampled by recording artists today.