Dennis ‘Dee Tee’ Thomas – one of the founding members of Kool & The Gang – has died. He was 70. According to a statement from Thomas’ rep to The Associated Press (AP), the multi-talented musician died peacefully in his sleep at his New Jersey home.
Thomas was the flutist, percussionist, alto sax player and master of ceremonies for Grammy-award winning group. He was also a songwriter, helping pen hits the group was known for like “Get Down On It,” “Ladies Night,” “Celebration” and “Hollywood Swinging.”
Born in Orlando, Florida, Thomas and his family relocated to New Jersey during his childhood. The group was formed in 1964 when Thomas and six of his friends from school became the Jazziacs. They went through several iterations of names before settling on Kool & The Gang and becoming an iconic supergroup that churned out hits in the 1970s and 1980s.
Thomas was known for his iconic opening monologue on the group’s 1971 single “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight,” in which he warned about the state of the world.
“People, the world today is in a very difficult situation. We all know it because we’re the ones who created it. We’re gonna have to be the ones who clean it up. We’re gonna have to learn to live together and love each other,” Thomas said over harmonized singing.
Thomas added he believed one day a higher power would “judge who’s creating all this corruption and death and pollution and all these difficult situations on earth and He’s gonna want to know who’s gonna take the weight.”
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While the group was known for light-hearted party hits, Thomas’ aforementioned monologue – which The Guardian noted is still relevant today – was typical of the group’s core beliefs.
“[We] “got involved in what you might call the hippy revolution. We were all getting very politically orientated and were very much involved in the changes that American youth seemed to be going through,” Thomas told Black Music magazine in 1975.
He said Kool & the Gang were able to break through to white audiences by being innovative and creative. “We began to look at ways of breaking through, bypassing the radio,” Thomas said. “The discotheques were springing up and we could see what they were into. We needed to make a much harder, funkier, tighter kinda thing than what we’d been doing. So that’s how we did Funky Stuff.”
While admitting “most of us don’t go to discos,” Thomas said the shift served them well. “We got to a white audience who’d never heard of us until then, national television, all the big shows,” Thomas said, per The Guardian.
Kool & The Gang made an indelible impact on music, even after it stopped churning out new hits. Many hip hop artists sample their songs and their music has also been used in the cores of prominent films like “Rocky” and “Pulp Fiction.”
Thomas’ last appearance with the group was July 4 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. He is survived by his wife Phynjuar, daughter Tuesday, sons David and Devin, brother Bill and sisters Doris and Elizabeth. He was also the father of late “Family Matters” actress Michelle Thomas, who played the beloved role of Myra on the hit 90s sitcom.
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