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Kool & the Gang co-founder George “Funky” Brown dies at 74

George Brown in 2010. Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images.


George “Funky” Brown, Kool & the Gang’s drummer, keyboardist, and founding member, has passed away. A representative confirmed to the Guardian that Brown had died of lung cancer. He was 74.

Along with Robert “Kool” Bell, Ronald Bell (who passed in 2020), Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, Robert “Spike” Mickens, Charles Smith, Woodrow “Woody” Sparrow, and Ricky West, Brown started Kool & the Gang in 1964. He remained with the band for 59 years, finally retiring this past August. He played drums for his first quarter century with the group, switching to keyboards, briefly at first (from 1989–1993) and then permanently in 1998.

A key component of the band for virtually their entire 59-year run up to now, his stylings were essential to all of their biggest hits — timeless tracks like “Jungle Boogie,” “Hollywood Swinging,” “Ladies’ Night,” “Celebration,” “Get Down On It,” “Cherish,” and dozens more. These songs and others have lived on far past their chart peaks, and many have found second homes as samples, with multi-platinum artists such as Madonna, Jay-Z, Beastie Boys, and Janet Jackson flipping the Gang’s music for their own megahits. Speaking in 2015 on the extensive mining of his group’s songs for samples, Brown told Red Bull Music Academy he was “totally honored.”

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

“We lost our beloved husband and father, Kool & The Gang founding member George Brown last night,” they wrote in a statement. “He passed away peacefully at Long Beach Memorial Hospital surrounded by family. His incredible talent and presence will be greatly missed and never forgotten.”