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BALTIMORE, MD — More than 4,000 hardcore RnB fans filled the RamsHead Theater at the Maryland Live Casino in suburban Baltimore recently to witness the legendary sounds of Kool & The Gang.
With more than 80-million records sold world-wide, one would casually assume that this successful band that spans six decades would have already been thrust into rock royalty – as members of the illustrious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
Unfortunately, that’s not to be. And, during a post-concert interview with bassist/bandleader Robert Earl “Kool” Bell, he confirmed that the 52-year-old band has yet to achieve Rock HOF status. He also seemed a bit disappointed and unclear as to why his group has yet to achieve such an honor.
The group’s original drummer, “Funky” George Brown, who also helped found the group in 1964 in their hometown of Jersey City, N.J., also seems equally unclear and despondent as to why the band has yet to be so honored within Rock HOF ranks.
Last October, the band was honored with its very first Hollywood Walk of Fame – an achievement that “Kool” Bell says is a very welcomed and ironic honor. “Afterall, we wrote a song called “Hollywood Swingin’ – so, it’s sort of appropriate that we would achieve this honor,” he said. In 2015, the group was also honored with a Soul Train Legend Award, while being inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
Along with his brother and tenor saxman, Ronald “Kahalis” Bell, a 10-year-old “Kool” Bell, along with their parents, Bobby and Mabel Bell, moved from their original hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, to Jersey City, N.J. “I was 10 when we moved from Ohio,” Kool confirmed after the Maryland show, while reflecting on a popular inner-city, amusement attraction known as Idora Park, during his “Y-town” childhood. In the early 1960s, the James Brown Revue would perform at the Idora Park Ballroom. Incidentally, as native Ohioans, the Bell brothers are part of an esteemed Ohio RnB fraternity of which several funk bands, musicians and singers have hailed from the Buckeye State — ultimately to become internationally-renown performers – some who are even HOF inductees at the Ohio-based Rock museum.
Such groups include The Ohio Players, The Isley Brothers, The O’Jays, Lakeside, Zapp and Roger Troutman, Bootsy Collins, Phelps “Catfish” Collins, Howard Hewitt (Shalamar), Bobby Womack, the Ingram brothers, James (Quincy Jones) and Philip (DeBarge); Ruby and the Romantics, Phillipe’ “Soul” Wynne (Spinners), Midnight Star, Heatwave, Faze-O, Dayton, and New Horizons featuring the Thomas brothers.
During their 90-minute Casino performance on Jan. 17, the Kool Gang provided a non-stop, 18-song set-list that featured a diverse selection of the plethora of hits that have made them extra Hall of Fame-worthy. Especially significant was “Ladies Night,” “Celebration,” “Reggae Dancin,” “Jungle Boogie,” and the syncopated funk-retro tune from their early years, “N.T.” Fortunately, the show was booked exactly one-week ahead of Jonas: Blizzard of 2016.
In accessing the Rock HOF’s website, the following verbiage acknowledges just how it’s nominating committee justifies how performers can be inducted into the prestigious hall:
To be eligible for induction as an artist (as a performer, composer, or musician) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the artist must have released a record, in the generally accepted sense of that phrase, at least 25 years prior to the year of induction; and have demonstrated unquestionable musical excellence. We shall consider factors such as an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction.
Based on the preceding premise, one would quickly assume that Kool & The Gang easily fits the bill and warrants becoming Rock HOF inductees, considering their existence for six decades – and how much they have influenced several generations of pop, soul, funk and jazz musicians.
Cecil Willingham, a long-time road manager for the band, noted that the group is “the most sampled band in RnB history” – topping even the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Willingham also said the group is currently “in talks” with HOF authorities, and that an induction could possibly occur within the upcoming year.
In an online video from 2013, group members visited the HOF facility, and following the tour, Kool Bell called the experience “beautiful” — adding that “we got to get up in here. They’ve got to show us some love.”
Let’s hope Cleveland’s HOF officials soon realize how much of an injustice that they are serving up — by refusing to admit Kool and the Gang into the Rock and Roll HOF.
It’s well beyond past time for this honor to occur.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Readers of this article may note that Kool Bell was interviewed in 1981 by Pittsburgh jazz legend, the late John “Squirrel” Mosely during a Warner Cable production headed by Aubry Bruce and Chris Sullivan. The footage was produced for the “Tree of Art Alive” TV series which aired on Warner Cable of Pittsburgh from 1981-1985. Sullivan is a jazz bass guitarist, and Bruce is a jazz vocalist and a contributing writer to the Courier. The interview is currently featured on YouTube).
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