The musician was among the founding members and songwriters of the iconic funk group
George “Funky” Brown, drummer and co-founder of Kool & the Gang, has died at age 74.
A rep for the band confirmed to PEOPLE on Friday that he died “peacefully” in Long Beach, California on Thursday, Nov. 16 surrounded by loved ones.
Brown’s family shared a statement on his death. “We lost our beloved husband and father, Kool & The Gang founding member George Brown last night,” the statement said. “He passed away peacefully at Long Beach Memorial Hospital surrounded by family.”
The statement concluded, “His incredible talent and presence will be greatly missed and never forgotten.”
Although a cause of death was not disclosed at this time, KCAL reported in October that the musician had stage 4 lung cancer.
Brown was among the founding members of the iconic funk group Kool & the Gang. While still in their teens, he joined brothers Ronald "Khalis" Bell and Robert "Kool" Bell as they set out to form a band in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1964, along with friends Charles Smith, Dennis "D.T." Thomas, Ricky West and Robert "Spike" Mickens.
After they first called themselves the Jazziacs and changed their moniker several times, the group blending jazz, funk, soul, rock and pop officially debuted as Kool & the Gang with their self-titled debut in 1969. The group went on to help to define the soulful sound of the ‘70s and become one of the most iconic funk bands of all time.
According to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Brown was one of the primary songwriters behind the group — helping to pen hits such as “Celebration,” “Cherish,” “Get Down On It,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Ladies Night,” among many others.
The Grammy-winning hitmakers received many accolades throughout their career, including an induction into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a Soul Train Legend Award. In 2020, their classic 1980 song “Celebration” was inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry.
The multi-instrumentalist opened up about living with stage 4 lung cancer in an October interview with KCAL. The outlet reported that Brown stopped touring due to illness three years ago, and went back out on the road in 2022 after he recovered. In 2023, the cancer relapsed and he continued receiving treatment.
Brown, who also played keys, spoke to NPR in a Weekend Edition Sunday interview about the “Too Hot” band’s legacy earlier this year in an interview.
When asked how he would describe their sound, he said, “The sound of happiness.”
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The drummer also opened up about what made the funk group successful. He said, “It's the chemistry. If the chemistry is there, bingo, it works. And you want to make it happen, and you want to see people happy, and you want to be successful with it. And you want to help create a culture, a world culture, where people come together with that music. That music is bringing people together and making this one-world culture greater than it was before.”
He continued, “And when you do music that's happy music, that's what it does. It brings people to the clubs to have a good time. And that's what we do. We say our prayer before we leave, and we say, let's go make some people happy.”
Robert “Kool” Bell is the only surviving, founding member of Kool & the Gang.
Brown is survived by his wife and five children, per TMZ.
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