Roland “Khalis” Bell, a co-founder of Kool & the Gang, died Wednesday at his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands, his publicist said. He was 68 and the cause of death was not released. Bell formed the group with his brother, Robert “Kool” Bell, in the 1960s, and the ensemble scored a string of hits in the 1970s and ’80s, including “Celebration,” “Jungle Boogie,” “Cherish,” “Ladies’ Night,” and “Summer Madness,” all written or co-written by Bell. He also played saxophone, sang, and produced the band.
The Bell brothers started playing music on paint cans in Youngstown, Ohio, and formed their first group, the Jazziacs, in Jersey City, New Jersey, with childhood friends. That group became Kook & the Flames, the Jazz Birds, and finally Kool & the Gang. Between 1970 and 2013, the group put out 23 studio albums, moving from jazz roots to funk and soul in the ’70s and, with the addition of vocalist James “J.T.” Taylor in 1979, chart-topping pop in the 1980s. Kool & The Gang won its first of two Grammy in 1978, a BET Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014, and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018.
Bell described his inspiration for the group’s most enduring hit, 1980’s “Celebration,” to Rolling Stone in 2015. “I was reading Scripture where the creator’s gonna create and made an announcement that he’s gonna create this human thing to angels, and the angels were celebrating him for doing so, and that’s also where the idea came from,” he said. “Three Dog Night had songs about ‘Celebrate’ but there was never a song about a cel-e-bra-tion. Everyone around the world, come on, there’s a celebration every second of our lives. Somewhere, someone is always celebrating something.”
Bell, who used the name Khalis Bayyan later in life, is survived by his wife and 10 children.