Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, longtime saxophonist and co-founding member of the legendary funk outfit Kool & The Gang, has died at the age of 70.
The band announced Thomas’ death Saturday, revealing that he “passed away peacefully in his sleep” in New Jersey. No cause of death was provided.
“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 demeanor,” the group said in a statement.
“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. 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.”
Thomas’ tenure with Kool & The Gang dates back nearly 60 years, when, in 1964, seven Jersey City, New Jersey teenagers — brothers Ronald “Khalis” Bell and Robert “Kool” Bell and their friends “Dee Tee,” Spike Mickens, Ricky Westfield, George Brown, and Charles Smith — formed a band first called the Jazziacs; the band — now an amalgamation of funk, soul and R&B influences — would adopt the Kool & The Gang moniker in 1969, the same year they released their self-titled debut album.
Thomas featured on every Kool & The Gang album from their formation to their upcoming 25th studio album Perfect Union; Dee Tee’s alto saxophone can be heard on hits like “Ladies Night,” “Jungle Boogie,” “Too Hot” and “Celebration.” Thomas also sang backing vocals as well as the occasional lead, like on Light of Worlds’ “Rhyme Tyme People.”
In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, the Bells credited Thomas with playing an instrumental role in the band’s hit “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight.” “The intro to [that song] is Dennis,” Ronald “Khalis” Bell said. “At the time, we were all searching for spirituality and stuff like that, so D.T. is the one who came up with that announcement on the song.”
Last month, Thomas took part in Kool & The Gang’s July 4th concert at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl. “Sadly, this was Dennis’ farewell appearance with the band,” the band added Saturday.
Following the death of fellow saxophonist Ronald “Khalis” Bell in 2020, Thomas was one of three surviving members of the original Kool & The Gang; only Ronald “Kool” Bell and drummer-keyboardist George Brown remain from the band’s 1964 formation.