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RONALD BELL,
1951-2020

Ronald “Khalis” Bell, the Kool & the Gang co-founder who wrote and produced hits such as “Celebration” and  “Jungle Boogie,” died Wednesday at his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was 68.

A self-taught musician who played saxophone and keyboards and sang on Kool & the Gang records, Bell and his bass-playing brother Ronald started working on a blend of jazz, soul and funk, using an assortment of names before settling on Kool & the Gang in 1969. They released their self-titled debut on De-Lite Records, owned by their manager Gene Redd, in 1970.

After releasing two live albums, Koo & the Gang put out Music uis the Message and Good Times in 1972, but it wasn’t until their fourth album, Wild and Peaceful, came out that they had any significant chart action. That 1974 set yielded the million-sellers  “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging,” plus the Top 40 hit ”Funky Stuff.”

The band took collective songwriting credits with Bell handling the arranging; Bell also used his Muslim name, Khalis Bayyan, on records.

While their music was commercial, it was far rougher and funk-oriented than the disco music that started to fill the charts and airwaves. Once they brought in singer James “JT” Taylor, their adapted their sound and scored smashes with “Ladies Night” and “Too Hot” in 1979. Their lone #1, “Celebration,” topped the pop chart in 1980.

Bell appeared on all two-dozen of the Kool & the Gang albums released between 1970 and 2013 and actively toured with the group. One of the most-sampled artists of all time, the "Jungle Boogie" horns have been used on more than 100 songs, among them Beastie Boys’ “Hey Ladies.”

The group’s inclusion on the  Saturday Night Fever soundtrack won them an Album of the Year Grammy Award in 1979. Kool & the Gang was honored with a BET Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 and inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018.

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