Ronald Bell, also known as Khalis Bayyan and the co-founder of Kool & the Gang with his brother Robert “Kool” Bell, died suddenly Wednesday morning (Sept. 9) at his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to a statement from his publicist. He was 68.
No cause of death has been announced at this time.
Ronald Bell and his older brother Robert joined forces with their Jersey City neighborhood friends Dennis “D.T.” Thomas, Robert “Spike” Mickens, Charles Smith, George Brown and Ricky West in 1964 to whip up a unique blend of jazz, soul and funk. Their infamous band recycled many monikers — Jazziacs, The New Dimensions, The Soul Town Band, Kool & the Flames – before cementing themselves as Kool & the Gang in 1969.
Born on Nov. 1, 1951, Ronald Bell acted as Kool & the Gang’s chief composer and arranger on top of mastering the saxophone and keyboard. He eventually penned the group’s first and only No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, “Celebration.” He told Billboard in a 2018 interview about the lyrical and religious inspirations for the song. “At the end of ‘Ladies Night,’ we are singing, ‘Come on let’s all celebrate’ so ‘Celebration’ comes from the end of ‘Ladies Night,’ but I actually saw that in a scripture I was reading where the creator of the universe that created man and the angels were all celebrating for doing so, and from that idea it sparked writing ‘Celebration.'”
He also wrote their top 10 Hot 100 hits “Jungle Boogie,” “Hollywood Swinging” and “Get Down On It.” Kool & the Gang has notched a total of 25 top 10 hits on Billboard‘s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
The funk, soul and R&B legends have earned a Grammy award for album of the year with the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, five American Music Awards and took home the BET Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. They’ve sold 70 million albums worldwide and earned 17 gold- and platinum-certified singles by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The Bell brothers, Brown and Kool & the Gang vocalist James “J.T.” Taylor were all inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018.
In an interview with Billboard last year to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary, Ronald Bell laughed when he said he felt grateful just to have the career he did. “And for it to be this long,” he added. “For me, I’m most grateful for that, to still be relevant since [we were]19.”
He is survived by his wife Tia Sinclair Bell; 10 children Kahdijah, Rasheed, Nadirah, Liza, Maryam, Aminah, Jennah, Khalis, Asia and James; grandchildren; brothers Robert Bell, Wahid Bayyan, Amir Bayyan, and his sister Sharifah Bayyan; and his Kool & the Gang band brothers Thomas and Brown among others. The family will hold a private funeral service, and they ask in lieu of flowers that fans support the Boys and Girls Club of America.