Monday, May 20, 2024

Unacceptable Tragedy: Ronald Bell, Co-Founder of Kool & the Gang, Dies at Age 68, Wrote “Celebration” Among Other Hits


Ronald Bell of Kool and the Gang has died age 68 and I want my money back for 2020. Ronald and his brother Robert, the co-founders of this amazing group, and the other members of their band appeared at least twice this summer on Richard and Demi Weitz’s Quarantunes Zoom charity calls. They were wonderful, joking around, answering questions, singing and playing and so on. There was no outward indication of illness.

According to sources, Ronald and his family were at their summer home in the Bahamas where they’d escaped COVID and were relaxing. Ronald leaves his brother, Robert, and his other brothers Wahid and Amir, his wife, Tia; sister Sharifah; and children Kahdijah, Rasheed, Nadirah, Liza, Maryam, Aminah, Jennah, Khalis, Asia and James.

Ronald, who went by the name Khalis,  explained once how jazz influenced him. “It was those albums that my dad brought home that drew me to jazz,” he said. “As I child, I was influenced by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Cannonball Adderley. I taught myself how to play saxophone by copying records by Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, and Wayne Shorter.”

Kool & the Gang’s hits– sampled over and over and played around the world — include many songs Ronald co-wrote including “Jungle Boogie,” “Hollywood Swinging,” and “Celebration (Celebrate Good Times),” and “Joanna.”

The band went through many name changes –from  the Jazziacs, to The New Dimensions, The Soul Town Band, Kool & the Flames — before arriving on Kool & the Gang in 1969, the year before they released their self-titled debut album.

I can still remember the first time I heard “Jungle Boogie.” It was just the beginning of the funk, pre-disco era that included the Ohio Players and many others (George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic). But the Bells knew how to hit the top 40 and number 1 especially. They had a recipe for funk and melody with very strong melody and bass lines. You could not not start dancing, which is very bad if you’re 16 and in a car.

This is just more bad news for music and for 2020. The Bells were really young when they had their hits, like 22 and 21, and were still young now by classic rock standards. I’m sure Robert will keep them going, but it won’t be the same.

“Celebration” was the biggest of their big hits and remains a staple at weddings and bar mitzvahs. This may be the first time it’s played at a funeral. But Ronald deserves to go out in style.




Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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