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Ronald “Khalis” Bell, one of the co-founders of the funk, R&B and pop supergroup Kool & the Gang, died suddenly Wednesday at his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Sujata Murthy of Universal Music Enterprises announced. He was 68.
No cause of death was immediately available.
A composer, arranger, producer and performer, Bell was a driving force behind one of the most successful groups of the past five decades.
In 1964, he and older brother Robert “Kool” Bell joined neighborhood friends Spike Mickens, Dennis Thomas, Ricky Westfield, George Brown and Charles Smith in Jersey City, New Jersey, to create a signature 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 Kool & the Gang in 1969, the year before they released their self-titled debut album.
A self-taught musician who specialized in the saxophone, Bell wrote and produced many of the band’s iconic songs, including “Celebration,” “Cherish,” “Jungle Boogie,” “Summer Madness” and “Open Sesame.”
Kool & the Gang collected two Grammy Awards and had 25 top 10 R&B hits, nine top 10 pop hits and 31 gold and platinum albums. They are among the most sampled bands of all time, with Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Cypress Hill, P. Diddy and The Killers, among many others, paying tribute.
Their music is also featured on the soundtracks of films including Rocky, Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction.
In October 2015, the band behind “Hollywood Swinging” received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
After a decade-long hiatus from new music, they released “Sexy” in 2016, which made it to No. 15 on the Billboard R&B charts. The band in recent years also appeared alongside Kid Rock, Dave Matthews Band, Elton John and The Roots and performed on a 50-city tour with Van Halen. In 2018, they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
On his own, Bell produced the 1994 debut album from The Fugees (then known as Tranzlator Crew), Blunted on Reality.
In addition to Robert and his other brothers Wahid and Amir, survivors include his wife, Tia; sister Sharifah; and children Kahdijah, Rasheed, Nadirah, Liza, Maryam, Aminah, Jennah, Khalis, Asia and James.
Services will be private. The family asks in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Boys & Girls Club of America.
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