Classic hits like “Jungle Boogie,” “Hollywood Swinging,” “Celebration,” “Get Down on It” and “Joanna”
Lead vocalist James "J.T." Taylor, along with Robert “Kool” Bell on bass, his brother Ronald Bell on tenor saxophone and drummer George Brown, was one of the main songwriters in their pop/R&B band Kool & The Gang, whose 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.
A native of Laurens, S.C., Taylor, earned praise early on when singing in his church choir at age seven. He formed his first band at 13, gaining further accolades with a performance at the renowned Apollo Theater. Although he developed both his performing and songwriting skills, he accepted a scholarship from Norfolk State University before refocusing on music two years later and singing full-time in various bands and gaining knowledge of jazz, R&B, rock, gospel, country and classical music.
The broad background served him well when he joined Kool & the Gang (Robert and Ronald Bell, Brown, keyboardist Ricky West, trumpeter Robert Mickens, saxophonist Dennis “D.T.” Thomas and guitarist Charles Smith) in 1978 and became their lead singer the following year. At the same time, the group partnered with Brazilian composer/producer Eumir Deodato: The combination of Taylor and Deodato brought about a remarkable resurgence for the group 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.
In 1987, Taylor and Robert Bell created a public service program to encourage school children to pursue education by rewarding those with perfect attendance records with free tickets to Kool & The Gang concerts. He left Kool & The Gang in 1989 to pursue a solo career, right away landing a No. 1 duet hit with Regina Belle, “All I Want is Forever,” and writing virtually all of his solo debut album Master of the Game. Since then, he’s collaborated with the likes of Whitney Houston, Patti Austin, George Benson, Coolio, The Brecker Brothers, and Bob Geldof (for “Do They Know It’s Christmas”).
He co-wrote the hit “Long Hot Summer Night” from his second album Feel the Need (1991), and after releasing his third album Baby I’m Back (1993) turned to acting in film (Mambo Kings) and theater (Raisin in the Sun). But Taylor continues to write new songs, and with Kool & the Gang, is a member of the New Jersey Hall of Fame and a Soul Train Legend Award recipient.