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Members include: Robert "Kool" Bell, bass; Ronald Bell, saxophone; George "Funky" Brown, percussion; Robert "Spike" Mickens, trumpet; Claydes (Charles) Smith, lead guitar; James "J.T." Taylor, vocals (joined group, 1978); Dennis "Dee Dee" Thomas, saxophone, flute; Ricky Westfield, keyboards (left group, 1976). Addresses: Record company--Sanctuary Records Group, 369 Lexington Ave., Sixth Fl., New York, NY 10017. Website--Kool and the Gang Official Website: http://www.koolandthegang.com.

Kool & the Gang were one of the most successful R&B and pop groups of the 1980s, placing more singles in the pop top ten during the first half of that decade than any other group. They experienced moderate success during the funk years of the early and middle 1970s as well, appearing regularly on R&B charts and impressing live audiences with their showmanship and instrumental skills developed during the group's early years as a jazz ensemble. Kool & the Gang remain known above all for a single song: "Celebration" (1980) is as close to a universal wedding reception standard as exists in American music, and it is often played at parties and dances for audiences not even born when the song was recorded.

Kool & the Gang came together in 1964 as the Jazziacs in Jersey City, New Jersey. At the center of the group were two brothers, Robert and Ronald Bell, born in 1950 and 1951, respectively, in Youngstown, Ohio. Their father, a champion featherweight boxer, had also dabbled in jazz and was a friend of pianist Thelonious Monk. When the family fell into dire poverty due to steel mill closures in Youngstown, their mother, Mabel, sent President John F. Kennedy a letter containing a picture Ronald Bell had drawn of their falling-down home, and Kennedy read the letter on national television. Robert Bell was a bassist, and Ronald played tenor saxophone. The other members of the Jazziacs were trumpeter Robert "Spike" Mickens (born in Jersey City in 1951), saxophonist and flutist Dennis "Dee Dee" Thomas (born in Orlando, Florida in 1951), lead guitarist Claydes Smith (born in Jersey City on September 6, 1948), keyboardist Ricky Westfield, and percussionist George "Funky" Brown (born in Jersey City on January 5, 1949).

Performed in Jazz Coffeehouses

Members of the group had known each other and played in various bands as high school students in Jersey City. Several were influenced by hearing jazz in their parents' record collections or by becoming aware of the growing jazz club and coffeehouse scene in nearby New York City. Several future Kool & the Gang members, including both Bell brothers, formed a group called the Five Sounds Jr. (to distinguish it from another local Five Sounds) and landed jazz gigs at a coffeehouse at Jersey City's St. John's Church, and then, in early 1964, at the Café Wha? in New York's Greenwich Village. There they performed with a host of other then-unknown African-American talents, including Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, and folksinger Richie Havens. They changed their name to the Jazz Birds and then to the Jazziacs. Robert Bell, who had been involved with a street gang, decided he needed a more jazz-oriented nickname. He selected "Kool," spelling it with a K because so many other young people at the time had names beginning with "Cool."

The Jazziacs evolved to the Soul Town Band as musical fashions shifted away from jazz, and then, in 1968, to Kool & the Flames. They were signed to the Redd Coach label, and the following year they began to record for the associated small De Lite label in New York, taking the name Kool & the Gang to avoid confusion with James Brown's band the Famous Flames. With shows featuring costumes and choreography, they made an impact from the start, and two singles from their debut Kool & the Gang album reached Billboard's national rhythm-and-blues sales chart.

Kool & the Gang issued a live album as their sophomore release--an unconventional decision, but one that worked well for a band known for its live performances. The singles "Funky Man," "Who's Gonna Take the Weight?," and "I Want to Take You Higher" became hits, and Kool & the Gang launched an international tour in 1972. Ronald Bell was given a Koran in Germany, and both Bell brothers became members of a Nation of Islam temple in Jersey City and took Islamic names. Ronald Bell from that point on often used the name Khalis Bayyan.

The 1973 album Wild & Peaceful was certified gold for sales of 500,000 copies and cracked Billboard's rhythm and blues top ten. Other Kool & the Gang albums of the mid-1970s sold moderately well. Open Sesame (1976), with its title track featured in the film Saturday Night Fever, brought the group a pair of Grammy Awards. But the decline of the heavily instrumental and often spiritual funk sound and the simultaneous rise of more mechanical disco began to put a crimp in their popularity. In 1976 Ricky Westfield left the band, and the remaining group members made two important decisions that would soon result in skyrocketing popularity. The first was to hire a lead vocalist. Most of the Kool & the Gang hits to that point had lyrics, but weren't really vocally oriented. "We had never had a real lead singer, and couldn't perform a lot of the tunes we wrote," Kool told Robert Palmer of the New York Times. They picked Hackensack, New Jersey, schoolteacher James "J.T." Taylor after an audition lasting just a few minutes.

Worked with Producer Deodato

The second decision was to begin working with Brazilian-born dance producer Eumir Deodato. By 1979 all the elements were in place: strong, smooth lead vocals from Taylor, state-of-the-art production from Deodato, and a continuing commitment to elaborate stage shows and a funky rhythmic groove from the band as a whole. The changes brought immediate results. In 1979 "Ladies Night" topped the R&B charts for three weeks and cracked the pop top ten. The following year Kool & the Gang released the album Celebrate, which earned double-platinum status for sales of over two million copies.

Most of those sales were generated by the single "Celebration," the composition of which was credited to Ronald Bell and Kool & the Gang. An infectious call and response between Kool's bass and a group "wa-hoo" suited the song to celebrations of all kinds, and it topped both pop and R&B charts. During the early 1980s Kool & the Gang concerts attracted crowds that were more racially diverse racially than those of almost any other act. The albums Something Special, As One, and In the Heart maintained the group's momentum with smooth but rhythmically catchy singles like "Get Down on It" and "Joanna."

Joined Famine-Relief Project

The 1984 album Emergency was another multimillion seller, spawning the three hit singles "Misled," "Cherish," and "Fresh." That year Kool & the Gang became the only American band to participate in the British Do They Know It's Christmas? all-star famine relief recording project. Forever was another strong seller, and the group's momentum was slowed only by the departure of J.T. Taylor as lead vocalist in 1987. The split was friendly, and Khalis Bayyan produced several of Taylor's solo albums. Kool & the Gang, however, began to founder, with the albums Sweat (1989) and Unite (1993) making little impact.

Bayyan's production skills helped launch the careers of the Fugees and their two solo talents, Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean, and Kool's son Hakim also became a hip-hop artist. Taylor rejoined Kool & the Gang in 1996 for State of Affairs, and the group's drawing power as a live act waned only slightly. Financial problems that had plagued the group evaporated with the growth of hip-hop, for the Kool & the Gang classics of the 1970s and 1980s were among the most sampled of any music of the era, and royalties flowed in, with a big boost from the use of the early 1970s hit "Jungle Boogie" in the film Pulp Fiction. The group's 2004 album The Hits: Reloaded featured remakes of the their famous songs with added new elements by contemporary hip-hop artists. In 2005 Kool & the Gang had a busy schedule that included a tour of Germany, France, and Finland. They were also seeking creative and production assistance for a Mamma Mia-style musical that would be built around a group of songs as well known to the Baby Boom generation as any others in the repertory of popular music.

by James M. Manheim

Kool & the Gang's Career

Formed in Jersey City, NJ, as Jazziacs, 1964; performed at Café Wha?, Greenwich Village, New York City; changed name to Soul Town Band, Kool & the Flames, and Kool & the Gang; made debut album, Kool & the Gang, for De Lite label, 1969; recorded Good Times, 1972, and Wild & Peaceful, 1973; released album Open Sesame, with title track included in film Saturday Night Fever, 1976; added vocalist James "J.T." Taylor, 1978; began working with producer Eumir Deodato; recorded album Ladies Night, 1979; released album Celebrate, featuring single "Celebration," 1980; released sequence of hit albums, including Emergency, 1984; J.T. Taylor left group, 1987 (returned 1995); continued to tour and record, 1990s--.

Kool & the Gang's Awards

Two Grammy Awards for "Open Sesame" (featured on soundtrack to film Saturday Night Fever); American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Band/Duo/Group, and Favorite Soul/R&B Album for Emergency, 1986.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Kool & the Gang Lyrics

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over 14 years ago

Just saw them last weekend at Ceasars Windsor. WOW, what a show!! They played for 1 hour and 45 minutes straight, with only the "solo spots" for breaks. They are great entertainers. It was one of the best shows I have been to in a long time.

almost 15 years ago

These fellas were at Ho-Chunk Casino and every last one of them were the nicest people you will ever have the pleasure of meeting. Even their manager and other crew were great. I am glad I got to met them all. We talked with alot of them like we were long time friends.

over 15 years ago

I've seen the Kool and the Gang last week at the HardRock and they really are still cool and still rocking ever

over 15 years ago

actually, JT had a quite great solo carrier, , he had many sucsesful albums, and hit single like promise land, how, baby im back, all i want is forever, etc, he is talent,he is producer however many classic kool and the gang song have been lost without him. so we expect them to reunite again.

almost 16 years ago

When I was much younger, I really enjoyed seeing and hearing Kool and the Gang. Especially Jame JT Taylor, I was told that the young lady that played Myra on Family Matter and on The Young and the Restless was his daughter. I knew she pass away, so sorry she ( I think was a good actress), just wanted to know if this is true?

almost 16 years ago

Kool & the Gang are the greatest pop group ever, and it is good to see the group is still alive without legendary JT Taylor. However another JT/K&G Reunion would be the greatest ever too.

almost 16 years ago

While it may be sad that the GANG is not the same without legendery JT it is still remarkable that the band is not quiting and attempting to play together to survive another era, thank you all.

about 16 years ago

kOOL. Every body wants JT TAYLOR BACK,SO PLEASE!!!!!GET JT BACK.Next time include JT in your next anniversay video,he's very much A part of KOOL-GANG,so be nice KOOL.SAD TO SAY THE SINGERS YOU HAVE NOW DON'T COME CLOSE TO JT'S SMOOTH SILKY VOICE.

over 16 years ago

Is there a Rodney Ellis singing with the group. If so I think he is my brother. My brother Mike Ellis said that he may have got on with the group and Rodney is from Memphis Tenn. I would like to know if this is the same person who could be my brother.

over 16 years ago

The new kool and the gang isnt the same band anymore. If you go to a concert dont expect to hear what they recorded years ago. Almost all of the members are different and the songs, well, they do a good job on some of them such as ladies night might be actually better than the original but the rest. NOT. They can't touch the old band but that's how it goes. I even hear the original guitarist died. They're just getting up in age and the groove is gone. It's a bunch of 2nd generation guys trying to do what their family did. HMMMMMM

over 16 years ago


over 16 years ago

I watched all of your videos in detail with my dad in those days and now with my children and I think the guitar guy is always too hard on J.T. because the gave him a platform to exihibit his talent. I don't know if he was Ronald Bell, you know the guitar guy in jerry curls? he's too jealous of J.T. and you could see it in his eyes and body language especially during the interview on "stone love" set. That may be one of the reason why the guy left. I would too if I was been stiffled I don't care if rhe band belongs to you. You were all making money and should have made it a collective survival thing. You think the band is complete without him? I dont think so? You guys were just too good together. All others co-perated but you did not. I hpoe you've learnt your lessons? I just adore all the rest of the band - you too but you behaved immaturedly those days. How can we get pictures of what the band members look like now? I hope age is good on you.