Dennis Thomas, longtime saxophonist and co-founder of Kool & the Gang, has died at the age of 70.
Thomas, also known as “Dee Tee,” died peacefully in his sleep Saturday in New Jersey, according to the legendary funk band’s official Twitter account. The Associated Press reports that he is survived by his wife, daughter and two sons.
Thomas was one of the seven original founding members of Kool & the Gang, which formed in 1964 and performed under various other names before the group settled on the one that we’ve long known them as in 1969. Per Rolling Stone, Thomas was featured on all of Kool & the Gang’s albums.
His saxophone was integral to many of the group’s hits, including “Celebration,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Ladies’ Night,” and it was his voice heard during the introduction to 1971’s “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight.”
Kool & the Gang provided a statement to Rolling Stone, which said this, in part:
“A huge personality while also an extremely private person, Dennis was the alto saxophone player, flutist, percussionist as well as master of ceremonies at the band’s shows.
… 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.”
According to Rolling Stone, Thomas’ final performance with the group was during a Fourth of July concert at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. He was preceded in death by his fellow saxophonist and group co-founder Ronald “Khalis” Bell in 2020. Robert “Kool” Bell, Ronald’s brother, and George Brown are the only remaining original members of the group since its formation.