George ‘Funky’ Brown, longtime drummer and co-founder of Kool & the Gang, dead at 74


George “Funky” Brown, the co-founder and longtime drummer of Kool & the Gang who helped write such hits as Too HotLadies NightJoanna and the party favourite Celebration, died Thursday in Los Angeles at age 74.

Brown died after a battle with cancer, according to a statement released by Universal Music. He had retired earlier in the year, nearly 60 years after the band began, and revealed that he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

Kool & the Gang has sold millions of records with its catchy blend of jazz, funk and soul, what Brown liked to call “the sound of happiness.”

In 1964, Brown helped launch the Grammy-winning group, originally called the Jazziacs, along with such friends as bassist Robert “Kool” Bell, brother Ronald Bell on keyboards and guitarist Charles Smith.

Released memoir this year

From left, George Brown, Ronald Bell, Dennis Thomas and Robert ‘Kool’ Bell, of Kool & the Gang, appear at the 2014 Soul Train Awards in Las Vegas on Nov. 7, 2014. (Omar Vega/Invision/The Associated Press)

After years of relative obscurity, name changes and personnel changes, Kool & the Gang broke through in the mid-1970s with Jungle Boogie and Hollywood Swinging among others songs and peaked in the late ’70s-mid 1980s, with hits ranging from the ballads Cherish and Joanna to the up-tempo, chart-topping Celebration, now a standard at weddings and other festive gatherings.

In 2023, Brown produced the band’s latest album, People Just Wanna Have Fun, and released his memoir Too Hot: Kool & the Gang & Me.

He is survived by his wife, Hanh Brown, and his five children. In lieu of flowers, his family has asked that donations can be made in his honour to the Lung Cancer Society of America.

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