Born Feb. 9, 1951, in Orlando, Florida, Thomas was known for his prologue on the band’s 1971 hit, “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight.” Known for his hip clothes and hats, he was also the group’s wardrobe stylist. In the early days, he served as their “budget hawk,” carrying their earnings in a paper bag stuffed into the bell of his horn, the statement said.
In 1964, seven teen friends created the group’s unique blend of jazz, soul and funk, at first calling themselves the Jazziacs. They went through several iterations before settling on Kool & the Gang in 1969. The group’s other founders are brothers Ronald and Robert Bell, Spike Mickens, Ricky Westfield, George Brown and Charles Smith.