Kool & the Gang alto sax player Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, an original member of the beloved soul-funk band known for its enduring party anthems “Celebration” and “Get Down On It,” has died.
Thomas “passed away peacefully in his sleep” Saturday at the age of 70, a representative for the band confirmed.
A long-time resident of Montclair, New Jersey, Thomas was born on February 9, 1951 in Orlando, Florida, and was one of the seven Jersey City teens who got together in 1964 to form the instrumental soul-jazz group the Jazziacs.
The band, which included brothers Ronald Bell and Robert “Kool” Bell, and friends Thomas, Spike Mickens, Ricky Westfield, George Brown, and Charles Smith, was impressive enough to occasionally play with jazz legends McCoy Tyner and Pharoah Sanders.
After honing their craft while trying different names, the friends officially launched Kool & the Gang in 1969.
“Dennis was known as the quintessential cool cat in the group, loved for his hip clothes and hats, and his laid-back demeanor. A huge personality while also an extremely private person,” a statement posted on the band’s Facebook page read.