Ronald “Khalis” Bell, the co-founder of the soul group Kool & the Gang, died Wednesday morning 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, Billboard reported. Bell’s death was confirmed by Tia Sinclair Bell, his wife and agent, according to Variety. Angelo Ellerbee, a publicist for the group, also confirmed Bell’s death.
Bell was credited as a writer and producer on the group’s biggest hits, including “Celebration” in 1980 and “Cherish” in 1985, Variety reported. The group also hit the charts with hits such as “Jungle Boogie,” “Get Down On It,” “Ladies Night” and “Hollywood Swinging.”
Ronald Bell and his older brother, Robert “Kool” Bell, formed a band in their hometown of Jersey City, New Jersey, with friends Dennis “D.T” Thomas, Robert “Spike” Mickens Charles Smith, George Brown and Ricky West in 1964, Billboard reported. They performed under several names before settling on Kool & the Gang in 1969, the magazine reported.
Kool & The Gang won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 1979 for their inclusion on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, according to Grammy.com. The group’s fusion of soul, jazz and funk was sampled by many artists through the years. The horns from 1973′s "Jungle Boogie” were sampled on more than 100 other songs, including, including rap classics like Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It” and the Beastie Boys' “Hey Ladies.”
Born on Nov. 1, 1951, Ronald Bell was Kool & the Gang’s lead composer and arranger, playing the saxophone and keyboard, Billboard reported. He wrote the group’s only No. 1 hit, “Celebration,” telling the magazine in a 2018 interview how he was inspired to write 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," Ronald Bell said. "From that idea, it sparked writing ‘Celebration.’”
Bell was in the middle of producing a series of collaborations, including work in as a solo artist in “Kool Baby Brotha Band,” Variety reported. He was also working on “Kool TV,” a program of animated shorts about the group’s career.