Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas has gone home peacefully at the age of 70.
A founding member of the long-running soul-funk band Kool & the Gang, known for such hits as “Celebration” and “Get Down On It,” was surrounded by family after passing away in his sleep Saturday, Aug. 7, in New Jersey.
Thomas was also the band’s alto sax player, flutist and percussionist. He was the master of ceremonies at the their shows. His last appearance with the group was July 4th at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
Born Feb. 9, 1951, in Orlando, Florida, Thomas was known for his prologue on the band’s 1971 hit, “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight.” He was able to be the life of the party thanks to his collection of hip clothes and hats, and was the group’s wardrobe stylist. In the early days, he also managed the crew’s budget, making sure Kool & the Gang kept their earnings in a safe place, which was the bell of Thomas’s horn.
As one of seven teenage friends, Thomas and the group’s other founders—brothers Ronald and Robert Bell, George Brown, Ricky Westfield, George Brown, Spike Mickens, and Charles Smith—blended jazz, funk, and soul to become known as the Jazziacs. They went through several other iterations before settling on Kool & the Gang.
Once they got into their bag, the band earned two Grammy Awards and seven American Music Awards for songs “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging.” In 2014, they were honored with a Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award, and acts like The Luniz, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Jade sampled Kool & the Gang heavily. Films, such as Rocky, Saturday Night Fever, and Pulp Fiction, included them in their film soundtracks.
Thomas is survived by his wife, Phynjuar Saunders Thomas, daughter Tuesday Rankin and sons David and Devin Thomas.