Drummer George “Funky” Brown, who kept the beat going for Kool & the Gang while also being a founding member, has died. Brown, who had been battling lung cancer, was 74. He died in Los Angeles on Thursday night.
Brown, along with Robert “Kool” Bell on bass, his brother Ronald Bell on tenor, and lead vocalist James “J.T.” Taylor, was one of the songwriters in a band with such hits as Jungle Boogie, Hollywood Swinging, Celebration, and Get Down on It.
Brown’s death was initially reported by TMZ.
George Brown Influenced By Jazz Drummers
Brown, according to an official biography of the drummer-songwriter posted by the Songwriters Hall of Fame, developed an early affinity for jazz drummers Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, and Jack DeJohnette when he met neighbor and future Kool & The Gang keyboardist Ricky West, Deadline reports. Brown was a native of Jersey City, N.J.
West introduced Brown to the band’s future saxophonist and musical director Ronald Bell and future trumpeter Robert Mickens. By the mid-1960s they were playing jazz clubs while still in high school.
In 1969, the group, which performed under various names including the Jazziacs, became Kool & the Gang. They began to develop the blend of jazz, soul, funk, rock, and pop music that would become their trademark. The band’s breakthrough came in 1973 with the album Wild and Peaceful. It included the hits Jungle Boogie and Hollywood Swinging.
Throughout the ’70s and well into the ’80s, Kool & The Gang scored a string of hits. They included Ladies’ Night, Get Down on It, Joanna, Cherish, and the chart-topping Celebration.
Group Won Grammy For Work On ‘Saturday Night Fever’
The group won a Grammy in 1978 for their work on the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever. That album has sold more than 16 million copies in the U.S. alone. Kool & The Gang’s song Open Sesame also was featured in the movie.
In all, Kool & The Gang won two Grammys, and seven American Music Awards, and was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame. They sold 7.5 million albums in the U.S. and more than 70 million worldwide. The group also opened for Van Halen on its 2012 tour with original singer David Lee Roth.
The drummer is survived by his wife and five children.
Brown spoke about his cancer battle in an interview with TV station KCAL News just last month.
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