Dennis Thomas (known as “D.T.” and “Dee Tee”), the co-founder of enduring soul icons Kool & the Gang, died on Saturday, August 7 at his home in New Jersey, a representative confirmed. He passed away in his sleep at the age of 70.
Dennis was born on February 9, 1951, in Orlando, Florida. He was married to Phynjuar Saunders Thomas and was a long-time resident of Montclair, NJ.
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. 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. 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.
In 1964, seven teenage friends came together, consisting of brothers Ronald Bell and Robert “Kool” Bell, and friends Dennis Thomas, Spike Mickens, Ricky Westfield, George Brown, and Charles Smith. The group created a unique musical blend of jazz, soul, and funk. At first calling themselves the Jazziacs, the band went through various name changes before settling on their famous moniker. Kool & the Gang officially launched in 1969 and are now true funk, soul, R&B, and pop legends.
To date, the band has earned two GRAMMY Awards, seven American Music Awards, 25 Top Ten R&B hits, nine Top Ten Pop hits and 31 gold and platinum albums. In addition, their bulletproof funk and jazzy arrangements made them at one point the most sampled band of all time. Kool & the Gang’s music was also featured on the soundtracks of countless films including classics like Rocky, Saturday Night Fever, and Pulp Fiction.
Dubbed “the opening of America” by CNN, Kool & the Gang kicked off the 2021 season of the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on the 4th of July. Sadly, this was Dennis’ farewell appearance with the band.
In an interview with Blues & Soul in May 1977, Thomas said, “Our music’s always been acceptable to discos, before the ‘D.T.’ phase was in. It was geared that way. We wanted our music to be funky – that’s always been important to us. There are certain musical areas we haven’t even begun to work at, ideas we haven’t even begun to express musically. That’s really what keeps us going on further and further, because there is still so much more for us to explore in terms of music.”