Kool & the Gang co-founder George “Funky” Brown died Nov. 16 in Los Angeles, of cancer, at the age of 74. Brown played drums for the group in addition to co-writing hits such as “Ladies’ Night,” “Get Down On It,” “Fresh,” “Celebration,” “Too Hot,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Joanna.”
“You need to live the life you want to live,” Brown said in an interview earlier this year. “People ask me if I can believe I’ve been in Kool & the Gang for six decades, and yes, I can believe it. At the same time, it feels like it went by in a blink — as every wonderful journey does feel.”
Brown was one of the musicians who formed The Jazziacs in Jersey City in 1964. That band morphed into Kool & the Gang in 1969. They had their first hit that year, with the instrumental “Kool & the Gang”; their first Top 10 hit in 1973, with “Jungle Boogie”; and peaked in popularity in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Brown was the drummer until 1998; since then, he remained in the group as a singer, keyboardist, percussionist, songwriter and producer, though he retired from touring in August of this year.
Brown liked to describe his music as “the sound of happiness.” On social media, today, the band praised Brown as “dear brother, cofounder and the funkiest drummer the world has ever seen. His beautiful soul is now at rest. We love you George. Thank you for giving us the sound of happiness.”
In his autobiography “Too Hot: Kool & the Gang and Me,” Brown wrote about his life and career, as well as his struggles with cancer. The book came out in July, the same month that Kool & the Gang released a new album, People Just Wanna Have Fun, that Brown produced.
In the book’s epilogue, Brown noted that he and Robert “Kool” Gang were the only co-founders still in the group; the others had all died. He also wrote that part of his recovery from cancer had to do with “knowing that I not only have an album coming out but also will be back on the road with my bandmates in Kool & the Gang. A psychologist once told me that you have to be out of your mind, in a good way, to be an artist. From the early days to now, more than five decades later, we still see the elation in each other’s eyes as we play. Along with that comes an undercurrent of honest fear and an exhilarating ache that comes from taking the risk of expressing your art and having people understand you.
“On most nights, I sit at the piano to the right of Kool and look over at him as he looks at me. We give each other the wink, our kind of thumbs up. It’s a connection that goes way back to the beginning. It feels as valuable as any grand reward.”
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