Ronald Bell, a co-founder of one of the most influential funk and soul bands in Kool & The Gang, has died. Also known as Khalis Bayyan, the songwriter and composer founded the band alongside his brother, Robert “Kool” Bell.
As reported by Billboard, Bell died suddenly Wednesday morning (Sept. 9) at his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands according to a statement issued by his publicist. The cause of death has not been shared publicly.
Bell was born on Nov. 1, 1951, in Youngstown, Ohio. After a brief stint in Long Island, N.Y., the family took residence in Jersey City, N.J. and connected with a group of friends influenced by jazz, soul, and funk. Dennis Thomas, Robert Mickens, Charles Smith, George Brown, and Ricky West first joined forces in the early 1960s and had several name changes before settling in on Kool & The Gang towards the end of the decade. Vocalist James “J.T.” Taylor, a former schoolteacher, joined the band in the 1970s.
Despite Kool & The Gang’s notoriety among funk and soul fans, they amassed just one top-charting hit in the feel-good jam “Celebration,” which Bell regarded as his favorite song in a 2016 interview with Songwriter Universe. Sharing that the song was inspired by a reading of the Bible and celebrating the creation of man, the song has become a staple of parties and celebrations the world over.
Other tracks that Bell helped write include hits like “Jungle Boogie,” “Get Down On It,” and “Hollywood Swinging” among others. The group also notched a Grammy Award for Album of the Year for the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018 alongside some of his bandmates.
Bell is survived by his wife Tia Bell and their 10 children, his brother and bandmates, along with several other relatives and friends.
Ronald Bell was 68.