The Songwriters Hall of Fame was saddened to learn of the passing of 2018 Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, Ronald Bell.
Ronald Bell, also known as Khalis Bayyan and the co-founder of Kool & the Gang, was a self-taught tenor saxophonist and keyboardist who, along with his brother Robert "Kool" Bell on bass, lead vocalist James "J.T." Taylor and drummer George Brown, was one of the main songwriters in their pop/R&B band Kool & The Gang. Their classic hits like “Jungle Boogie,” “Hollywood Swinging,” “Celebration,” “Get Down on It” and “Joanna” made for a novel and immensely successful pop-funk groove in the 1970s and ‘80s. Such songs have been featured in films (“Jungle Boogie” was in Pulp Fiction while “Summer Madness” appeared in Rocky) and have been sampled countless times by artists including DJ Kool, Mase, Too Short, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Boogie Down Productions, Brand Nubian, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, N.W.A., Kris Kross and Jermaine Dupri.
Born in Youngstown, Ohio, Bell grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey. His father and uncle were boxers who moved to New York to train and lived in the same building as jazz great Thelonious Monk. Bell has said that he himself was drawn to jazz by albums that his father brought home, by Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly. He taught himself to play sax by copying recordings by Lee Morgan, Art Blakey and Wayne Shorter.
With his brother Robert, Bell began playing jazz and formed a group in 1964 called The Jazziacs, who early on played with the likes of McCoy Tyner and Pharoah Sanders. After playing clubs in New York City under various names--and serving as backup in a Motown covers band--they became Kool & the Gang in 1969 (the band also including Dennis "D.T." Thomas, Robert Mickens, Charles Smith, George Brown, and Ricky West). Kool & The Gang has since played jazz, soul, funk, rock and pop music, but struck commercial success in 1973 with their album Wild and Peaceful, which yielded the Top 10 hits “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging.”
After adding vocalist James “J.T.” Taylor and partnering with Brazilian composer/producer Eumir Deodato, they struck gold from 1979 and 1986 with major, self-written hits like “Ladies’ Night,” “Get Down on It,” “Joanna,” “Cherish” and the chart-topping “Celebration,” with the 1984 album Emergency selling two million copies. “Celebration” was later used in national media coverage of the 1980 World Series, the 1981 Super Bowl, the 1981 NBA Championship, and the 1981 return of the Iran hostages.
Bell, besides writing songs for his band, has songwriting credits that appear on numerous recordings by the varied likes of The Killers, Sam Smith, TLC, Timbaland, Jay-Z and Arctic Monkeys. In addition to being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Kool & The Gang has been inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, and there’s a street in Jersey City named in their honor.
Bell is survived by his wife Tia Sinclair Bell, ten children, grandchildren, brothers Robert Bell, Wahid Bayyan, Amir Bayyan, his sister Sharifah Bayyan and his Kool & the Gang band brothers.