Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, longtime saxophonist and an original member of Kool & the Gang, has died at the age of 70. The band confirmed his passing on their Facebook page, writing, “Dennis was known as the quintessential cool cat in the group, loved for his hip clothes and hats, and his laid-back demeanor.” Thomas passed away “peacefully in his sleep” on August 7.
Born in 1951 in Orlando, Florida, Thomas co-founded the soul-funk band in 1964 alongside brothers Ronald Bell and Robert “Kool” Bell while in high school with them, initially calling themselves the Jazziacs before settling on Kool & the Gang in 1969. Thomas played on every Kool & the Gang studio album, including their upcoming album Perfect Union, which is out August 20, 2021. His last performance with the group was at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on July 4
“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,” the statement reads. “Dennis’ prologue featured on the group’s 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 is survived by his wife Phynjuar Saunders Thomas, daughter Tuesday Rankin sons David Thomas and Devin Thomas, Aunt Mary “Duggie” Jones, sisters Doris Mai McClary and Elizabeth Thomas Ross, brother Bill Mcleary, and his nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.