George Brown, a founding member and drummer of the band Kool & the Gang, who played on funk, disco and pop hits that were featured prominently in films and were sampled numerous times, died Thursday in Long Beach, Pennsylvania. California. He was 74 years old.
His death, which occurred in a hospital, was confirmed in a statement from the group’s publicist, who said the cause was cancer. Mr. Brown had publicly stated that he was suffering from lung cancer.
Mr. Brown, known as Funky, was a key contributor to several of the group’s biggest hits, including “Ladies Night,” “Jungle Boogie” and the party anthem “Celebration.”
In a July interview with NPR, he described Kool & the Gang as “the sound of happiness.”
In 1964, Mr. Brown teamed up with Ricky Westfield and brothers Ronald Khalis Bell and Robert “Kool” Bell, along with other friends — Spike Mickens, Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas and Charles Smith — to form a group that would combine jazz, funk, disco and R&B and create some of the most memorable pop songs of their era.
Formed in Jersey City, New Jersey, the group first played jazz while its members attended Lincoln High School. The group performed under several names, including the Jazziacs, but ultimately settled on Kool & the Gang in the late 1960s.
One of the group’s first names was Kool and the Flames, but the group changed the Flames to The Gang to avoid confusion with James Brown’s group, the Famous Flames.
George Brown was born on January 15, 1949. His father, George Melvin Brown Sr., worked in the coal industry while his mother, Eleanor White Brown, was a maid in Fort Lee, New Jersey and also worked as a hole punch.
Both made music a constant part of Mr. Brown’s upbringing, Mr. Brown recalled in his memoir published this year, “Too Hot: Kool & the Gang & Me.”
Mr. Brown, who took up drums at a young age, wrote that he saved money on a newspaper delivery route to buy his first drum set.
In a 2015 interview with the Red Bull Music Academy, Mr. Brown described using butter knives as drum sticks when he first started playing.
“Then I went to a music store on Newark Avenue in Jersey City and got a $3 lesson from a man who played with the Shirelles. He said, “Hey man, you’re a natural!” “, recalls Mr. Brown. “So he gave me the book “Buddy Rich’s 16 Essential Snare Drum Basics.” I took one more lesson and never went back.
The group was signed by producer Gene Redd to De-Lite Records in 1969.
The members were in the middle of a recording session in New York for their first instrumental album, “Kool and the Gang,” when Mr. Redd encouraged Mr. Brown and Ronald Bell to just “do something.” This led to a freewheeling recording session that produced songs like “Raw Hamburger” and the album opener, “Kool & the Gang.”
“It just flowed. And we’re just grooving,” Mr. Brown told The New York Times in an interview last year.
The sound continued into the 1970s when the group rose to fame and added singer JT Taylor.
Songs like “Jungle Boogie,” “Hollywood Swinging,” and “Funky Stuff” became staples of the Billboard charts. “Celebration” – with its cheerful refrain “Celebrate the good times, come on!” – I reached the top.
The group went on to release dozens of albums, tour around the world and appear on the soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever,” which won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1978.
The band’s songs have frequently appeared on film and television soundtracks, most notably for 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.”
In 2015, the group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Mr. Brown was a producer on an album the group released this year, called “People Just Want To Have Fun,” in anticipation of the group’s 60th anniversary.
Kool & the Gang has had a wide influence, particularly in hip-hop.
According to the website WhoSampled, the group has been sampled in nearly 2,000 songs, among the highest of all time. The group’s song “Summer Madness” has 249 samples, made by artists including Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Mary J. Blige.
Ronald Khalis Bell, the band’s singer, songwriter and saxophonist, died in 2020. Mr. Thomas, who played saxophone, died in 2021.
Mr. Brown is survived by his wife, Hanh Brown, and five children: Dorian Melvin Brown, Jorge Lewis Brown, Gregory Brown, Jordan Xuan Clarence Brown and Aaron Tien Joseph Brown.
Three years ago, Mr. Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer, according to an interview broadcast by Los Angeles television station KCAL. After surgery and chemotherapy, Mr. Brown recovered and returned to touring in 2022. But this year, the cancer returned.
“I hadn’t planned to be part of a world-famous band, but I welcomed it when it happened,” Mr. Brown wrote in his book. “I didn’t know where music would take me, but I knew that if I stayed focused and persevered, it would happen the way God intended. And that’s what happened.
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