Khalis Bell, Co-founder of Kool & the Gang, is Dead at 68

The songwriter/producer was at home in the Virgin Islands

Ronald “Khalis” Bell passed away suddenly early this morning according to a statement from his label publicist, Sujata Murthy. He was at his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands with his wife, Tia Sinclair Bell. He was 68.

Ronald “Khalis” Bell, co-founder of Kool & the Gang, was a driving force behind one of the most successful groups of the last five decades, composing, arranging, producing and performing some of the most popular music of our time.

In 1964, a young Ronald Bell and his brother, Robert “Kool” Bell, joined neighborhood friends Spike Mickens, Dennis Thomas, Ricky Westfield, George Brown, and Charles Smith to create a unique musical blend of jazz, soul and funk. At first calling themselves the Jazziacs, the band went through various names changes – The New Dimensions, The Soul Town Band, Kool & the Flames – before settling on their famous moniker. 

Kool & the Gang officially launched in 1969 and are now true Funk, Soul, R&B and Pop legends.

A self-taught musician, Khalis’ signature sound can be heard on the band’s unforgettable horn lines, bass, synthesizer and vocals. He wrote and produced many of the band’s iconic songs, including “Celebration,” “Cherish,” “Jungle Boogie,” “Summer Madness” and “Open Sesame.” To date the band has earned two GRAMMY® Awards, seven American Music Awards, 25 Top Ten R&B hits, nine Top Ten Pop hits and 31 gold and platinum albums. In addition, their bulletproof funk and jazzy arrangements made them the most sampled band of all time.

Kool & the Gang’s music is also featured on the soundtracks of countless films including the classics RockySaturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction.

Ronald “Khalis” Bell. Photo courtesy, Tia Sinclair Bell

From Nairobi to New York, Kool & the Gang performed continuously longer than any R&B group in history. A reviewer recently called their performance “a 24-karat show.” The band in recent years appeared  alongside Kid Rock, Dave Matthews Band, Elton John and The Roots, and performed on a 50-city tour with rock legends Van Halen.

In addition to keeping pace with the road, Khalis devoted much of his life to songwriting and producing for Kool & the Gang as well as developing new acts. In fact, he produced The Fugees, then known as Tranzlator Crew, debut record, Blunted On Reality.

In 2014, Kool & the Gang was honored with a BET Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award. In October 2015, in the town they sing about in one of their earliest hits, “Hollywood Swinging,” Kool & the Gang was honored to take their place as American musical icons with a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame. After a decade long hiatus from new music the band released “Sexy” in 2016 and hit #15 on the Billboard R&B charts. In 2018, they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Kool & the Gang enjoys a following that spans generations due in part to the group’s widely sampled catalog. The group’s signature horn lines, drum beats, bass and guitar lace the tracks of numerous artists, including the Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Cypress Hill, P. Diddy and The Killers, to name a few.

Khalis was working on a series of collaborations including his solo endeavor, “Kool Baby Brotha Band.” He was also working on “Kool TV,” a series of animated shorts about their childhood and career.

He is survived by family, his 10 children: Kahdijah, Rasheed, Nadirah, Liza, Maryam, Aminah, Jennah, Khalis, Asia and James; grandchildren; brothers Robert “Kool” Bell, Wahid Bayyan, Amir Bayyan, and his sister, Sharifah Bayyan, and his wife Tia Sinclair Bell.  And his band brothers, Dennis Thomas and George Brown  and the many Kool & the Gang family from the road. Services will be private. The family asks in lieu of flowers, that fans support the Boys and Girls Club of America.

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