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Dennis "Dee Tee" Thomas, a founding member and longtime fixture of the legendary R&B group Kool & the Gang, died Saturday in his sleep, according to a statement from the group. He was 70.

Thomas was a member of Kool & the Gang for its entire existence, from the band's origins in the 1960s to its most recent efforts, appearing on every album including the forthcoming Perfect Union. His last performance with the group took place just last month, at Los Angeles' Hollywood Bowl on the 4th of July. Thomas primarily served as the band's saxophonist, but played multiple roles — and multiple instruments — over his long tenure with the group.

Musician Dennis 'D.T.' Thomas of Kool and The Gang performs at the Regal Theater in Chicago, Illinois in August 1988.
Dennis 'Dee Tee' Thomas of Kool & The Gang died Aug. 7, 2021 at age 70.
| Credit: Raymond Boyd/Getty

"An original member of Kool & the Gang, Dennis was known as the quintessential cool cat in the group, loved for his hip clothes and hats, and his laid-back demeanor," the band said in a statement posted to Facebook. "A huge personality while also an extremely private person, Dennis was the alto saxophone player, flutist, percussionist as well as master of ceremonies at the band's shows."

Born February 9, 1951 in Orlando, Flor., Thomas was one of the seven teenage friends who originally formed the band that would become Kool & the Gang in 1964, alongside Ronald Bell and Robert "Kool" Bell, Spike Mickens, Ricky Westfield, George Brown, and Charles Smith. After several years and various names (including the Jazziacs, The New Dimensions, and Kool & the Flames), the group would become one of the biggest bands of the 1970s, with music spanning jazz, funk, R&B, soul, disco, and pop, and such hits as "Jungle Boogie," "Celebration," and "Ladies' Night."

Thomas' sonic contributions to the band included the intro to their 1971 hit "Who's Gonna Take the Weight." According to the band's statement, Thomas also served as their wardrobe stylist, "who made sure they always looked fresh," and early on "served as the 'budget hawk,' carrying the group's earnings in a paper bag in the bell of his horn."

Thomas is survived by his wife Phynjuar Saunders Thomas and three children. His death follows the passing of his Kool & the Gang co-founder Ronald "Khalis" Bell last year.

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