George Brown, Kool & the Gang Drummer, Dies at 74

George Brown, a founding member and drummer of the group Kool & the Gang, who played on funk, disco and pop hits that featured prominently in movies and have been sampled numerous times, died on Thursday in Long Beach, Calif. He was 74.

His death, at a hospital, was confirmed in a statement by the band’s publicist, who said the cause was cancer. Mr. Brown had said publicly that he had lung cancer.

Mr. Brown, known as Funky, was a key contributor to several of the band’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 linked up with Ricky Westfield and the brothers Ronald Khalis Bell and Robert “Kool” Bell, as well as other friends — Spike Mickens, Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas and Charles Smith — to form a band 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, N.J., the band first played jazz while members attended Lincoln High School. The band performed under several names, including the Jazziacs, but eventually settled on Kool & the Gang in the late 1960s.

One of the band’s early 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 Jan. 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, N.J., and also worked as a key puncher.

Both made music a constant part of Mr. Brown’s upbringing, Mr. Brown recalled in his memoir released this year, “Too Hot: Kool & the Gang & Me.”

Mr. Brown, who took to drumming at a young age, wrote that he saved up from a newspaper delivery route to buy his first drum set.

In a 2015 interview with Red Bull Music Academy, Mr. Brown described using butter knives as drum sticks when he first started playing.

“Then I went down to a music store on Newark Avenue in Jersey City and took a $3 lesson from a gentleman who used to play with the Shirelles. He said, ‘Hey man, you’re a natural!’” Mr. Brown recalled. “So he gave me ‘Buddy Rich’s 16 Essential Snare Drum Rudiments’ book. I took one more lesson and never went back.”

The band was signed by the producer Gene Redd to De-Lite Records 1969.

The members were in an early recording session in New York for their instrumental debut album, “Kool and the Gang,” when Mr. Redd encouraged Mr. Brown and Ronald Bell to just “do something.” It 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 carried over into the 1970s as the band found fame and added the vocalist J.T. Taylor.

Songs like “Jungle Boogie” “Hollywood Swinging” and “Funky Stuff” became Billboard chart staples. “Celebration” — with its cheery chorus “Celebrate good times, come on!” — made it all the way to the top.

The group would go on to release dozens of albums, tour worldwide and appeared on the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack, which won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1978.

The group’s songs have frequently appeared on film and television soundtracks, including for “Pulp Fiction” in 1994.

In 2015, the band was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Mr. Brown was a producer on an album that the band released this year, called “People Just Want To Have Fun” in anticipation of the group’s 60th anniversary.

Kool & the Gang had a broad influence, particularly in hip-hop.

According to the website WhoSampled, the band has been sampled in almost 2,000 songs, among the highest of all time. The band’s song “Summer Madness” accounts for 249 samples, by artists including Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Mary J. Blige.

Ronald Khalis Bell, a singer, songwriter and saxophonist for the band, 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 with the television station KCAL in Los Angeles. After surgery and chemotherapy, Mr. Brown recovered and returned to touring in 2022. But this year, the cancer returned.

“I didn’t plan on being in a band known around the world, but I welcomed it when it came,” Mr. Brown wrote in his book. “I didn’t know where the music would lead me, but I knew that if I remained focused and persevered, it would happen as God had intended. And it did.”

The post George Brown, Kool & the Gang Drummer, Dies at 74 appeared first on New York Times.

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