1964 in Jersey City, New Jersey
- Robert "Kool" Bell (born October 8, 1950 in Youngstown, Ohio) – Bass guitar, vocals
- Ronald Bell, also known by his Muslim name, Khalis Bayyan (born November 1, 1951 in Youngstown, Ohio) – Tenor saxophone, vocals, songwriter
- Claydes Charles Smith (born September 6, 1948 in Jersey City, died June 20, 2006 in Maplewood, New Jersey) – Lead guitar, songwriter
- Dennis Thomas (born February 9, 1951 in Jersey City) – Alto saxophone
- George "Funky" Brown (born January 5, 1949 in Jersey City) – Drums
- Robert "Spike" Michens – Trumpet
- Ricky West – Keyboards
- Woody Sparrow – Guitar
- Clifford Adams - Trombone
Other Key Members:
- James "JT" Taylor (born August 16, 1953) – Lead vocals (1979-1988), songwriter
Interestingly, Kool & the Gang started its career as a pure jazz outfit appropriately called the Jazziacs. The Bell brothers formed the group with friends around their neighborhood and underwent one name change before settling on a memorable, long-term name and incorporating soul and R&B into their sound. As the funk genre emerged, Kool & the Gang quickly became forerunners of the form, finally achieving significant pop success with two Top 10 singles in 1974, "Hollywood Swinging" and the still-prominent and iconic "Jungle Boogie." Success continued throughout the decade until the rise of disco threatened.
Kool & the Gang – Specialists in Reinvention:
Though the late-'70s popularity of disco tended to reduce the emphasis on instrumental ensembles, the band found a way to survive and find its niche in the new landscape. With the 1979 addition of the smooth-voiced Taylor on lead vocals, Kool & the Gang began a consistent string of Top 10 pop singles that would help the group remain a popular staple through most of the '80s. This period began with the funky, eminently danceable "Ladies' Night" and evolved with the commercially accessible but still strongly soul-oriented "Celebration" (the group's one No. 1 hit) and "Get Down on It."
Pop Smoothes Out the Edges:
Perhaps the former nightclub crooner Taylor had something to do with Kool & the Gang's increasingly pop-oriented next phase, or perhaps not. Regardless, his voice quickly became the focal point of the group's output, especially on romantic ballads like "Joanna" and "Cherish," both of which became No. 2 pop hits in 1983 and 1985, respectively. Still, other hit songs such as "Misled" and "Tonight" retained significant elements of the group's funky past, which helped make pop confections like "Fresh" perhaps a bit easier to swallow for longtime fans.
Kool & the Gang's Legacy – Soldiering On:
When Taylor left the band in 1988, the group's commercial fortunes went with him. Nonetheless, the remaining members soldiered on, releasing one more album before decade's end that received little attention. Since then, efforts have been intermittent, even after Taylor returned for a period in 1995, and Kool & the Gang has never regained its '70s and '80s popularity or career vitality. Even so, the band continues to receive nods of influence through frequent samples in current urban music as well as the attention "Jungle Boogie" got when included on the soundtrack of 1994's Pulp Fiction.