Kool & the Gang co-founder Ronald "Khalis" Bell, who helped write some of the group's biggest hits, died Wednesday at the age of 68 at his home in the Virgin Islands, his wife Tia Sinclair Bell said in a statement, according to Rolling Stone. His cause of death has not been revealed. Bell is credited with composing, arranging, producing and performing alongside the band, which was successful for decades, including major 1980s hits like "Celebration," "Cherish," "Get Down On It," "Joanna," and "Fresh."
Bell and his brother, Robert "Kool" Bell, formed a band in 1964 with Dennis "D.T." Thomas, Robert "Spike" Mickens, Charles Smith, George Brown, and Ricky West, which was known as the Jazziacs, the New Dimensions, the Soul Town Band and Kool & the Flames before Kool & the Gang was settled upon, mixing jazz, soul and funk sounds for a musical style all their own
"You had a hard time trying to get us to play R&B," Ronald told Rolling Stone in 2015. "We were diehard jazz musicians. We’re not stooping to that. We didn’t really try to do that until now." He recalled of the early days of the band, "We used to play a lot of percussion in the streets in the Sixties, go to the park and start beating on drums and stuff in the street … We were very street percussive [on that album], so we blended that element with listening to jazz. You could hear the jazz element. You could hear the Motown element."
Kool & the Gang performed continuously longer than any R&B group in history, winning two Grammys during that time and performing alongside performers like Elton John and the Roots while also traveling on 50-city tour with rock band Van Halen. In 2014, they were honored with a BET Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award, and in October 2015, the group was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The band has continued releasing new music as recently as four years ago, and in 2018, was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame for their prolific and iconic career in the industry.
Robert is survived by his 10 children — Kahdijah, Rasheed, Nadirah, Liza, Maryam, Aminah, Jennah, Khalis, Asia and James — grandchildren, brothers Robert “Kool” Bell, Wahid Bayyan and Amir Bayyan, and sister Sharifah Bayyan, in addition to his wife.