George Brown, the founding member and drummer of the band Kool & the Gang, who played funk, disco and pop songs that featured prominently in films and played numerous times, died Thursday in Long Beach, California. He was 74.
His death in hospital was confirmed in a statement issued by the band’s publicist, who said the cause was cancer. Mr. Brown has said publicly that he has lung cancer.
Mr. Brown, known as Funky, was a key contributor to many of the band’s biggest hits, including “Ladies Night,” “Jungle Boogie” and the party anthem “Celebration.”
in July interview with NPRHe described Cole and the gang as “the sound of happiness.”
In 1964, Mr. Brown teamed up with Ricky Westfield and brothers Ronald Khalis Bell and Robert “Cool” Bell, as well as other friends – Spike Mickens, Dennis “DT” Thomas, and Charles Smith – to form a band that combined jazz, funk, disco, and R&B. Some of the most memorable pop songs of their era.
The band formed in Jersey City, New Jersey, and first played jazz while the members were attending Lincoln High School. The band performed under several names, including the Jazziacs, but eventually settled on Kool & the Gang in the late 1960s.
One of the band’s early names was Kool and the Flames but the group changed the Flames to Gang to avoid confusion with James Brown’s group, the Famous Flames.
George Brown was born on January 15, 1949. His father, George Melvin Brown Sr., worked in the coal industry while his mother, Eleanor White Brown, was a maid in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and also worked as a keypuncher.
Both made music a constant part of Mr. Brown’s upbringing, Mr. Brown recalled in his memoir released this year, “Too Hot: Kool & the Gang & Me.”
Mr. Brown, who began playing the drums at an early age, wrote that he saved money by delivering newspapers to buy his first drum set.
In a 2015 interview With Red Bull Music AcademyMr. Brown described using butter knives as drum sticks when he first started playing.
“Then I went to a music store on Newark Street in Jersey City and took a $3 lesson from a gentleman who played with the Sherrills. He said, ‘Man, you’re a natural!'” Mr. Brown recalled. “So he gave me the book ‘Buddy Rich’s 16’ “Essential Snare Drum Rudiments”. I took another lesson and never came back.
The band was signed by producer Gene Reed to De-Lite Records 1969.
The members were at an early recording session in New York for their debut album, “Kool and the Gang,” when Mr. Reid encouraged Mr. Brown and Ronald Bell to “do something.” This led to a freestyle recording session that produced songs such as “Raw Hammerger” and album opener “Kool & the Gang”.
“It just flowed. We’re just rocking,” Mr. Brown told The New York Times in an interview last year.
The sound carried over into the 1970s as the band gained popularity and added vocalist JT Taylor.
Songs like “Jungle Boogie,” “Hollywood Swinging,” and “Funky Stuff” became staples on the Billboard charts. “Celebrate” – with its upbeat chorus of “Celebrate the good times, come on!” — Make it all the way to the top.
The group would go on to release dozens of albums, tour the world and appear on the soundtrack of “Saturday Night Fever,” which won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 1978.
The group’s songs have frequently appeared on film and television soundtracks, including “Pulp Fiction” in 1994.
In 2015, the band received a star in Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Mr. Brown was a producer on an album the band released this year called “People Just Want To Have Fun” in anticipation of the group’s 60th anniversary.
Kool & the Gang have had a widespread influence, especially in hip-hop.
according to WhoSampled websiteThe band has been sampled in nearly 2,000 songs. Among the highest ever. The band’s song “Summer Madness” features 249 samples from artists including Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Mary J. Blige.
Ronald Khalis Bell, the band’s singer-songwriter and saxophonist, died in 2020. Mr. Thomas, who played saxophone, died in 2021.
Mr. Brown is survived by his wife, Hannah Brown, and five children: Dorian Melvin Brown, Jorge Luis Brown, Gregory Brown, Jordan Schwan Clarence Brown, and Aaron Tian Joseph Brown.
Three years ago, Mr. Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer, according to a broadcast interview With TV station KCAL In Los Angeles. After surgery and chemotherapy, Mr. Brown recovered and returned to touring in 2022. But this year the cancer returned.
“I didn’t plan to be in a band known around the world, but I welcomed it when it came,” Mr. Brown wrote in his book. “I didn’t know where music would lead me, but I knew that if I stayed focused and persevered, what God wanted would happen. And it did.
“Freelance entrepreneur. Communicator. Gamer. Explorer. Pop culture practitioner.”