Kool & the Gang
R&B/funk group
Formed in: Jersey City, New Jersey
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2015: Performing Arts

From the moment they recorded their song “Celebration” in 1980, the members of Kool & the Gang sensed they had created an anthem. They were right. “Celebration” went to No. 1 on the pop and R&B singles charts and has endured for more than four decades as a staple at weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other joyous occasions.

The celebration started in Jersey City in 1964, when brothers Ronald Bell (sax and keyboards) and Robert “Kool” Bell (bass) joined with five friends—mostly from Lincoln High School—to work out jazz and soul instrumentals. Calling themselves the Jazziacs, they jammed in local basements and at St. John’s Church. Renamed the Soul Town Band and later the New Dimensions, they started playing local clubs, sometimes backing up major jazz artists.

By 1967, they had a new name—Kool & the Gang—and a label deal with De-Lite Records. The original group also featured Robert “Spike” Mickens (trumpet), Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas (sax), Ricky Westfield (keyboards), George Brown (drums), and Claydes Smith (guitar). Ronald Bell served as music director and Robert Bell’s driving bass became the bedrock of the group’s sound.

Kool & the Gang’s self-titled, all-instrumental debut album for De-Lite reached No. 46 on Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart, bringing the group national attention. After some moderate success, the Gang kicked into high-gear in 1973 with its dance-oriented fourth studio album, “Wild and Peaceful,” which spawned the group’s first top-10 pop hits, “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging.” Each sold more than 1 million copies. More hits followed, but by the middle of the decade the momentum slowed. Disco was hot, but Kool & the Gang was not.

That all changed in 1979, when the band recruited singer James “J.T.” Taylor and joined forces with Brazilian pop and jazz producer Eumir Deodato to record the hugely successful “Ladies Night” album. The album’s title song went to No. 1 and No. 8 on the R&B and pop charts, respectively. The follow-up album collaboration with Deodato (titled “Celebrate!”) included the party-perfect track “Celebration,” which would become the band’s biggest and most enduring hit. (Like its predecessor album, “Celebrate!” was recorded at House of Music in West Orange.)

“Celebration” topped both the R&B singles chart and the pop chart. In January 1981, when the American hostages returned home after 444 days of captivity in Iran, “Celebration” was the anthem that greeted them. The single was also the theme song of the 1981 Superbowl. It remains one of the most performed songs at celebrations everywhere.

The band remained at the top of its game throughout the 1980s, with four more top-10 pop hits, most notably “Joanna” in 1983 and “Cherish” in 1985.  The Gang toured throughout the decade and in 1985 took part in rock star Bob Geldof’s multi-artist charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas.”

Kool & the Gang has remained influential, thanks in part to its many hits, which are among the most sampled in the hip-hop age. And while most of the group’s original members are deceased (including Ron Bell, who died in 2020), an updated version of Kool & the Gang continues to record and tour the globe.

Intro/Acceptance Video