Ronald Khalis Bell of Kool & the Gang Dies at 68

by 24USATVSept. 10, 2020, 11 p.m. 24
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Ronald Khalis Bell, who with his brother and some neighborhood friends formed the jazz-funk-R&B band that became Kool & the Gang, and who was the lead writer on its biggest hit, the omnipresent feel-good song “Celebration,” died on Wednesday at his home in the Virgin Islands. He was 68.

His wife, Tia Sinclair Bell, announced his death through a spokeswoman. The cause was not given.

Mr. Khalis Bell, who was also a producer and was often credited under his Muslim name, Khalis Bayyan, began dabbling in music as a child, mastering saxophone and keyboards and playing with his brother Robert, a bassist who picked up the nickname Kool in elementary school. The Bell household in Jersey City, N.J., was steeped in jazz influence; the boys’ father, Bobby, was a professional boxer whose friends included the jazz master Thelonious Monk. Miles Davis also sometimes visited.

The Bell brothers and friends — Spike Mickens, Dennis Thomas, Ricky Westfield, George Brown and Charles Smith — began playing together in 1964 and performed under several names, including the Jazziacs, before settling on Kool & the Gang in the late 1960s.

The band, its personnel changing over the years but the Bell brothers remaining at the core, had success in the 1970s, especially on the R&B charts, with “Jungle Boogie” (1973), “Ladies’ Night” (1979) and other songs. Then, after adding the vocalist J.T. Taylor, it found a new level of fame with “Celebration,” which topped both the R&B and pop charts in 1980 and became a go-to crowd-pleaser at sporting events, fireworks displays and anywhere else that joy and enthusiasm were in order.

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