Saxophonist, singer, songwriter and producer Ronald Bell, also known as Khalis Bayyan, has died at the age of 68. The musician — who was born in Ohio but whose family moved to Jersey City when he was still a child, and who later lived in West Orange — was a member of the hit-making group Kool & the Gang throughout their more-than-50-year career.
He was one of four musicians, in fact, who have been in every incarnation of Kool & the Gang; one of the others is his brother, bassist-singer-songwriter-producer Robert “Kool” Bell. The group — whose music blends elements of pop, funk and R&B — had 12 Top 10 hits and were mainstays on the charts from the late ’60s to the late ’80s. Among their honors was induction into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2015.
Ronald Bell co-wrote many of the band’s hits, including “Celebration,” “Cherish,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Ladies’ Night,” and co-produced many of them as well. In a 2019 interview, he said he was particularly proud of “Celebration.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever come up with another song as good as that,” he said. ” ‘Everyone around the world, come on! Let’s celebrate.’ In every language, in every culture, to hear people who speak another language sing every word to that song, it wells me up a lot when I see that.”
When Kool & the Gang were opening shows for Van Halen in 2012, Van Halen’s David Lee Roth said that “We picked Kool & the Gang to open for us because Kool & the Gang and Van Halen are the sounds of an entire continent at recreation … You go to a Hasidic Jewish bar mitzvah and they’ll play ‘Ladies’ Night’ by Kool.”
Outside the group, Bell’s credits include production on The Fugees’ 1994 debut album, Blunted on Reality.
The Fugees’ Wyclef Jean once said: “He’s the first guy that had us in the studio, and after we did this, whatever the four of us did … he was, like, ‘There’s magic going on here.’ And he sort of like was the guy who helped us get to the first stage, which was the album that ended up becoming Blunted on Reality.”
Bell died at his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Among his survivors are his wife, Tia Sinclair Bell, and 10 children. A press release didn’t provide the cause of death and said only that he died “suddenly.”
The service will be private, and the family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Boys and Girls Club of America.
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