Ronald “Khalis” Bell, Kool & the Gang co-founder, has passed away at the age of 68 on September 9. Bell had worked as a writer and producer for Kool & the Gang, which he had founded with his brother Robert “Kool” Bell in 1964. Ronald Bell has been credited for many of the band’s most popular songs, including “Celebration,” “Jungle Boogie,” “Cherish” and more.
Bell’s wife and agent, Tina Sinclair Bell, confirmed the news of Robert Bell’s death in a statement to Variety. Bell passed away at his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands, with the cause of death currently unknown.
Bell had been born in Youngstown, Ohio. His father, Robert “Bobby” Bell had been a professional boxer and Golden Gloves amateur boxing winner, traveling extensively during Bell’s young life. The family moved to New Jersey in 1960 to be closer to family.
The Bell brothers had gotten their start playing drums on paint cans, the pair unable to afford a real drum kit. They formed Kool & the Gang during high school, with the band first being called Jazziacs then Kool & the Flames. Dennis “D.T.” Thomas, Robert “Spike” Mickens, Charles Smith, George Brown and Ricky West joined the brothers to form the band, with Ronald Bell and Smith remaining in the band until their death. Robert Bell, Thomas and Brown remain in the band.
Kool & the Gang released their first album, Kool and the Gang in 1970, with their fourth album, Wild and Peaceful seeing their first rise to fame in 1973. The group had appearances on Soul Train, performing “Jungle Boogie” on the show in 1974.
Kool & the Gang lost some popularity in the mid to late-’70s, but returned to the charts in 1979 with Ladies’ Night. The album signified a new era for the band, with their subsequent albums, Celebrate! and Emergency having a slew of hits, including “Celebration,” “Get Down on It,” “Joanna” and “Cherish.” The album won a Grammy for best album in 1979 with Saturday Night Fever. In 2018, the Bell brothers were inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
Bell is survived by his brother, wife and ten children.