Robert “Kool” Bell, co-founder of Kool & the Gang, was born in Youngstown, Ohio, and grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey. He gave himself the nickname “Kool” after someone in his neighborhood named “Cool.”
His father and uncle were boxers who moved to New York to train and lived in the same building as jazz great Thelonious Monk (who became Bell’s Godfather) and with his brother Ronald, Bell began playing jazz and formed a group in 1964 called The Jazziacs, who early on played with the likes of McCoy Tyner and Pharoah Sanders.
After playing clubs in New York City under various names–and serving as backup in a Motown covers band–they became Kool & the Gang in 1969 (the band also including Dennis “D.T.” Thomas, Robert Mickens, Charles Smith, George Brown, and Ricky West). Kool & The Gang has since played jazz, soul, funk, rock, and pop music, but struck commercial success in 1973 with their album Wild and Peaceful, which yielded the Top 10 hits “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging.”
In 1979, the group added a Lead Vocalist, James “J.T.” Taylor. For the next decade, the group “struck gold” with major hits like “Ladies’ Night,” “Get Down on It,” “Joanna,” “Cherish” and the chart-topping “Celebration,” with the 1984 album Emergency selling two million copies. “Celebration” has become an international anthem; it was later used in national media coverage of the 1980 World Series, the 1981 Super Bowl, the 1981 NBA Championship, and the 1981 return of the Iran hostages.
The group has earned two Grammy Awards, seven American Music Awards, 25 Top Ten R&B hits, nine Top Ten Pop hits and 31 gold and platinum albums.
From Nairobi to Newark, Kool & the Gang has performed continuously longer than any R&B group in history and their bulletproof funk and jazzy arrangements have also made them the most sampled R&B band of all time.
The heavily-in-demand band has continued to tour the world, appearing most recently alongside Kid Rock, Dave Matthews Band, Elton John and The Roots and performing on a recent, 50-city tour with rock legends Van Halen.
In 2014, they were honored with a BET Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award and in October 2015, in the town they sing about in one of their earliest hits, “Hollywood Swinging,” Kool & the Gang was honored to take their place as American musical icons with a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Robert Bell’s bass guitar is on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.
In 2023, Robert says the group has an ambitious schedule with multiple dates in Las Vegas, cruise ships and other venues in and outside of the United States.
You can watch Robert’s interview with Gary Johnson below.
Robert is known as a music icon, but he’s also a successful businessman outside of the stage with his Le Kool Champagne Grand Cru, produced by Paul Berthelot. The champagne is receiving rave reviews throughout France and Japan and will soon be imported to the United States, Africa and the rest of the world.
Robert also has “Just Kool Cologne.” You can learn more about Robert by visiting the Kool & the Gang official website.
A special thanks to Angelo Ellerbee (Double XXposure Media Relations) and Kevin Goins (New Grooves Radio) for arranging this interview. And to Tony Johnson for your efforts to complete the interview during a power outage.