Dennis Thomas, Montclair resident and Kool & The Gang cofounder, dies in his sleep
(Kool & The Gang)
Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas — co-founder of Kool & The Gang and a longtime Montclair resident — died in his sleep Saturday, according to a statement from the band. He was 70.
Thomas, born in Florida on Feb. 9, 1951, had been the “quintessential cool cat in the group, loved for his hip clothes and hats, and his laid-back demeanor,” his bandmates said. They described him as “huge personality while also an extremely private person.”
Thomas had been one of the original members of the band, which saw several changes to its lineup over the years. He’d been its saxophone player, flutist, percussionist and master of ceremonies.
His final performance was at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles Angeles on July 4.
The band, known for hits including “Celebration” and “Get Down On It,” in 1978 won the "Album of the Year" Grammy as part of the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack. In 2018, the band was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
“Dennis’ prologue featured on the group’s 1971 hit, ‘Who’s Gonna Take the Weight’ is legendary and an example of his showmanship,” his bandmates wrote. “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."
The band’s original members first came together in 1964 as teenagers — Thomas, brothers Ronald Bell and Robert “Kool” Bell, Spike Mickens, Ricky Westfield, George Brown and Charles Smith — the bandmates wrote. They started their life as the "Jazziacs,” with a blend of jazz, soul and funk before going through several name changes and eventually coming around to “Kool & the Gang.”
That version of the band launched in 1969 “and are now true funk, soul, R&B and pop legends,” the bandmates wrote.
Thomas had recently been featured on “Kool TV,” a series of animated shorts about the band members’ childhoods and memories. The episodes are available at KoolAndTheGang.com.
He is predeceased by his mother, Elizabeth Lee Thomas, his sister Darlene Thomas and his daughters, Michelle Thomas and Tracy Jackson, according to the band. He 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.
Also this weekend, Trevor Moore, a Montclair native and co-founder of the sketch comedy group “The Whitest Kids U’Know,” died in what family members described as a “tragic accident."
— Louis C. Hochman