Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, the master of ceremonies for the legendary Kool & the Gang, has died, according to a statement shared on Facebook by the band. He was 70.
According to the post, Thomas died peacefully in his sleep Saturday (Aug. 7) in New Jersey. Thomas was a founding member of Kool & the Gang when the group formed in 1964. He played the flute, served as a percussionist for the band at times but mostly was the band’s alto saxophone player.
Although the iconic funk group has added several new members and replaced others over the years, the original Kool & the Gang was composed of seven members: Robert “Kool” Bell, Ronald Bell, Robert “Spike” Mickens, Ricky West, Charles Smith, George Brown and Thomas.
Dee Tee was born on Feb. 9, 1951 in Orlando, Florida. He met most of his band mates in high school in Jersey City, New Jersey. Initially, the gang called themselves the Jazziacs. For nearly five years, the band underwent several name changes before they decided on Kool — which was Robert Bell’s nickname — & the gang. Kool & the Gang released their first of 23 studio albums in 1969. The self-titled debut reached No. 43 on the Billboard R&B album chart. It featured the singles “Kool and the Gang” and “Let The Music Take Your Mind.” Thomas would go on to appear on every single album the group has released to date. The band has received two Grammy Awards, a handful of American Music Awards, the Soul Train Legend Award, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Thomas was around for it all.
According to Kool & the Gang’s Facebook statement, “Dennis was known as the quintessential cool cat in the group, loved for his hip clothes and hats, and his laid-back demeanor. [He was] a huge personality while also an extremely private person. Dennis’ prologue featured on the group’s 1971 hit, ‘Who’s Gonna Take the Weight’ is legendary and an example of his showmanship. Dee Tee was the group’s wardrobe stylist who made sure they always looked fresh. In the band’s early days, Dennis also served as the “budget hawk”, carrying the group’s earnings in a paper bag in the bell of his horn.”
His last appearance with the band took place at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on the 4th of July. At the time, Thomas was one of three surviving members of the original Kool & The Gang; Ronald “Kool” Bell and keyboardist George Brown are the two remaining members left.
Thomas is survived by his wife, Phynjuar Saunders Thomas, daughter Tuesday Rankin and sons David Thomas and Devin Thomas.