Dennis ‘Dee Tee’ Thomas, Co-Founder of Kool & the Gang, Dies at 70

by Katie Maloney

Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, a co-founder of the soul-funk group Kool & the Gang, died on Saturday.

According to a press release, the 70-year old musician passed “peacefully in his sleep” in New Jersey. But not before performing with his band one last night. Beautifully, Thomas just finished a performance with Kool & the Gang during their Los Angeles show at the Hollywood Bowl. If there is an ideal way to pass, it’s peacefully while sleeping after a night of doing what you love most.

Dennis Thomas was an original member of Kool & the Gang. He founded the group in 1964 along with his brothers Ronald Bell and Robert “Kool” Bell, and his friends Spike Mickens, Ricky Westfield, George Brown and Charles Smith. Thomas played alto saxophone, flute, and percussion. He also acted as the “master of ceremonies” during the group’s performances. But it wasn’t until 1969 that the group became known as Kool & the Gang. In fact, for their first five years of performances, the group called themselves the Jazziacs. They became known for their musical fusion of jazz, R&B, soul and funk. It wasn’t until 1969 that they officially changed their name to Kool & the Gang. That same year, they released their self-titled debut album.

Kool & The Gang Is Still Touring

And just a few years later the group released one of their biggest hits in 1971, “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight.” In fact, Dennis Thomas is credited as the creator of the popular intro for the song.

According to the same press release, Thomas “was known as the quintessential cool cat in the group, loved for his hip clothes and hats, and his laid-back demeanor.” The release also said that, in the band’s early days, Thomas also acted as the group’s “budget hawk.” He would carry the group’s earnings in a paper bag in the bell of his horn. Dennis Thomas, along with the rest of Koll & the Gang earned two Grammy awards and seven American Music Awards. They are the most sampled band of all time and have sold over 70 million albums worldwide. Additionally, they’ve released 25 Top 10 R&B hits. And after decades in the business, Kool & the Gang hasn’t slowed down. In fact, they released a brand new album this year, “Perfect Union.” And, as stated previously, the group still tours around the country performing for dedicated fans.

They even received a much-deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of fame in 2015. The year before that, they earned the Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dennis Thomas is survived by his wife Phynjuar Saunders Thomas, his daughter Tuesday Rankin, sons David Thomas and Devin Thomas, aunt Mary “Duggie” Jones, sisters Doris Mai McClary and Elizabeth Thomas Ross, brother Bill Mcleary and many nieces, nephews and grandchildren.