Kool & The Gang co-founder Ronald Bell has passed away – Archyde

It’s with a heavy heart that I report the passing of Ronald Bell aka Khalis Bayyan, co-founder, saxophonist and 50+ member of the legendary R&B/funk band Kook & The Gang. Bell died of a heart attack at his home. He was 68. An immensely talented group of musicians that rose to the top of the music world not once but twice, Kool & The Gang continues to be one of the most beloved bands of the last half century. And Bell played a key role, both as a musician and writer of many of their biggest hits. Former by Bell and his brother Robert “Kool” Bell along with friends from Jersey City in the mid-60s, the band played traditional jazz in regional venues for several years, morphing their style to incorporate the emerging funk sounds of Sly & The Family Stone and James Brown. Their were signed to De-Lite Records in the early 70s and gained a small but loyal national following soon after. The group’s fortunes exploded in 1974 with the album “Wild & Peaceful”, an infectiously raw album that spawned the hits “Funky Stuff”, “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging”, all featuring great instrumentation and lyrics literally shouted by the group. However, as quickly as they rose to fame, Kool & The Gang faded, their rough sound appearing out of place against the slick, dance oriented sounds that began to dominate popular radio in the late 70s. Kool & The Gang was an afterthought in the music industry until 1979 when they brought in singer James Taylor and pop/jazz producer Emir Deodato for one last gasp, the album “Ladies Night.” Deodato simplified and sweetened the band’s jazz stylings in a heavily produced package, fronted by Taylor’s irresistible tenor voice. The album was a smash, spawning the hit title track and the ballad “Too Hot.” “Ladies Night” was followed by the even bigger “Celebration.” The joyous title cut became the theme song of countless sports teams in the 80s and one of the most played songs of a generation. The next five years brought such hits as “Misled”, “Cherish”, “Take My Heart”, “Joanna”, “Fresh” and “Let’s Go Dancing” to name a few. In 1987, Taylor left the group to pursue a moderately successful solo career, and the group continued but never had another chart hit. They spent the next decade on the oldies circuit before Taylor, whose solo career had stalled, rejoined for a 1996 reunion tour and the album “State Of Affairs”, an enjoyable disc that was ignored by both Pop and Soul radio. He stayed for three years before leaving Kool & The Gang for good. The band continued into the new millennium, first as a quintet, and then, after the death of guitarist Charles Smith in 2006, a quartet consisting of the Bell brothers (by then Ronald went by Khalis Bayyan), drummer George Smith and saxophonist Dennis Thomas (all original group members). In 2004 Kool & the Gang released “The Hits Reloaded”, an album of new versions of their greatest hits, featuring Ashanti, Sean Paul, Jamiroquai and Blue Cantrell. In addition, Robert “Kool” Bell began working on a play based on the group’s career. They followed in 2006 with the single “Stepping Into Love”, their biggest hit in two decades, and began working on a new album, “Still Kool.” With 23-year-old lead vocalist Jirmad Gordan at hand, the band released the album in the summer of 2007 to positive reviews and a welcome return to the charts. Five years later, in 2012, Kool & The Gang became part of an unusual paring, invited by Van Halen to serve as the warm up act for the rock band’s sold out reunion tour, and bringing the classic sound of Kool & the Gang to a new audience. They released a holiday album the following year, and returned to the top 10 on the UAC charts with “Sexy” in 2016. Even during the quarantine, Kool & the Gang remained active, performing and posting great videos. For all these years, regardless of whether they were playing jazz, hard funk, or smooth soul, Kool & the Gang have stood for exquisite musicianship and a great relationship with their fans. And the news of Ronald’s passing indicates just how much this band of brothers meant to music fans. Rest in peace Mr. Bell. Your legacy will live on forever.