George “Funky” Brown, a self-taught drummer who was a co-founder and songwriter for 1970s chart-toppers Kool & the Gang, has died at the age of 74, it was announced Friday.
Brown died Thursday at Long Beach Memorial Hospital of lung cancer, his family said in a statement.
“His incredible talent and presence will be greatly missed and never forgotten,” according to the statement.
Brown co-wrote some of the band’s biggest hits, including “Celebration,” “Ladies’ Night” and “Jungle Boogie.”
The group came together in the mid-1960s when Ronald Bell and his brother, Robert “Kool” Bell, joined Brown and other Jersey City neighborhood friends to begin creating a danceable mix of jazz, soul and funk. At first calling themselves the Jazziacs, the group went through various names — The New Dimensions, The Soul Town Band, Kool & the Flames.
Over the next several years they supported comedians and jazz acts in clubs up and down the East Coast.
The band’s self-titled 1969 debut album for tiny independent De-Lite Records introduced a signature sound that mixed R&B, funk and soul, spawning their first hit, an instrumental titled “Kool and the Gang.”
The outfit’s first taste of worldwide success came with the release of their fourth album “Wild and Peaceful” in 1973, which contained the Top 10 singles “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging” — both songs popular on radio and in discos.
The hit albums “Spirit of the Boogie,” “Love & Understanding” and “Open Sesame” followed. The latter’s title track was featured on one of the top-selling movie soundtracks of all time, “Saturday Night Fever,” earning the group a Grammy Award.
With the explosion of hip-hop in the 1990’s, Kool & the Gang’s catalog of grooves made them go-to favorites for producers. The group was at one point second only to R&B icon James Brown as a source of rap music samples. The Beastie Boys, Madonna, Jay-Z, Janet Jackson, N.W.A. and The Killers are among the acts that utilized Kool & the Gang samples.
Throughout Brown’s career with Kool & The Gang, the band received two Grammys, seven American Music Awards and 31 gold and platinum albums.
Brown is survived by his wife Hanh Brown; and his children Dorian Melvin Brown, Jorge Lewis Brown, Gregory Brown, Jordan Xuan Clarence Brown and Aaron Tien Joseph Brown.