Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, an alto saxophonist and founding member of the band Kool & the Gang, died in his sleep on Aug. 7 in New Jersey. He was 70.
An architect of one of the best-known groups to blend soul, funk, jazz, pop and R&B, Thomas, who was born in Orlando, Fla., raised in the Lafayette section of Jersey City, N.J. and started the band with five friends who were all accomplished jazz musicians, deciding to reach for the larger audience that drove popular entertainment in the 1960s and 1970s.
The result was a fusion that won acclaim in concerts, the recording studio and film. Among its greatest hits were “Celebration,” “Jungle Boogie,” Hollywood Swinging” and “Ladies’ Night,” with Thomas dominating on alto saxophone, flute and percussion.
“We learned that we had to simplify, that most simple music will grab a wide part of the audience,” he told the New York Times of the decision to create a unique sound that thrived for five decades. “Everybody in the group was a jazz musician at heart, but we knew we had to play R&B to make money.”
The result was long-running success. “Get Down On It” is one of the most-streamed songs on Spotify. “Celebration,” an anthem of spontaneous joy, was inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry of the 25 songs that best showcase American music.
Thomas, known as Dee Tee, kept track of the band’s cash in their early days and, with an eye on how Kool & the Gang” presented themselves, made sure the group “always looked fresh,” according to a statement released by a spokesman for the group.
Their music was also featured in film, including “Saturday Night Fever,” for which they won a Grammy in 1978, and “Pulp Fiction.”
The group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2015 for their contribution to the world of entertainment, and were inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 2018.
Their last public appearance was in Los Angeles on July 4.

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This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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