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(Credit: Kool & the Gang)

Dennis Thomas, Kool & the Gang saxophonist and founding member, dead at 70

Dennis Thomas, the man who held down the horn section for R&B legends Kool & the Gang for nearly 60 years, has passed away at the age 70. He reportedly passed “peacefully in his sleep.”

The other members of the band announced Thomas’ passing on social media: “Dennis was known as the quintessential cool cat in the group, loved for his hip clothes and hats, and his laid-back demeanor. 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.”

Thomas was a founding member of Kool & the Gang, having formed the group with a number of his high school friends in Jersey City, New Jersey. Initially a jazz outfit called the Jazziacs, the group incorporated a number of genres into their sound, including R&B, funk, soul, pop, rock, and disco.

Due to the “group first” mentality of the band, all members are credited songwriters, meaning Thomas had a hand in writing the band’s major hits, including ‘Jungle Boogie’, ‘Ladies Night’, ‘Get Down on It’, and ‘Celebration’. The horn section of Kool & the Gang was often the exuberant exclamation point on the band’s party songs, underscoring the jubilant and joyous songs with energetic blasts of melody and rhythm.

“On August 7,2021, Dennis Thomas (known as “Dee Tee”), beloved husband, father and a co-founder of Kool & the Gang, passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 70 in New Jersey,” Read the official statement from Kool & the Gang. “Dennis was born on February 9, 1951, in Orlando, Florida. He was married to Phynjuar Saunders Thomas and was a long-time resident of Montclair, NJ.”

Adding: “An original member of Kool & the Gang, Dennis was known as the quintessential cool cat in the group, loved for his hip clothes and hats, and his laid-back demeanour. Dennis’ prologue featured on the groups 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.

“Dubbed ‘the opening of America’ by CNN, Kool & the Gang kicked off the 2021 season of the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on the 4th of July. Sadly, this was Dennis’ farewell appearance with the band.”

He is predeceased by his mother Elizabeth Lee Thomas, his sister Darlene Thomas and his daughters, Michelle Thomas and Tracy Jackson. Michelle Thomas was an actress on The Cosby Show, Family Matters and The Young and the Restless and passed away in 1998. 

Thomas is survived by his wife Phynjuar Saunders Thomas; daughter, Tuesday Rankin; sons, David Thomas and Devin Thomas; Aunt Mary ‘Duggie’ Jones; sisters Doris Mai McClary and Elizabeth Thomas Ross; brother, Bill Mcleary; and a host of nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

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