By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — Kool and the Gang have been a musical mainstay since their1969 self-titled debut album. They have skillfully explored and played many musical styles throughout their lengthy career, from jazz and soul to funk, even pop and rock. Their list of honors and awards include two Grammys, seven American Music Awards, and a 2006 Music Business Association Chairman’s Award, as well as induction into the New Jersey and Vocal Group Halls of Fame, A Soul Train Legend and Marian Anderson Awards, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
But they’re far from ready to rest on their laurels. With the pandemic waning, Kool and the Gang have an ambitious set of touring dates in both America and overseas, including a date Sunday night at the Schmerhorn. They’ve also got their newest LP “Perfect Union,” which was produced by co-founding member Ronald Bell AKA Khalis Bayyan just before his passing in 2020. He’s one of two core members who’ve passed in the last few years, the other being Dennis “DT” Thomas who passed last year.
“Yes, we’ve had some setbacks,” Robert “Kool” Bell told the Tribune in a Zoom interview this week. “But this new album really represents the spirit and sound of the band today. I think it’s every bit as good as anything we’ve ever done and audience response when we perform songs from it, and especially the single ‘Pursuit of Happiness” has been excellent.”
Khalis Bayyan wrote “Pursuit of Happiness” during Barack Obama’s second presidential campaign. It’s one of 10 strong tracks on the release, “The song came at such a wonderful time, and every place that we perform it the reaction is great,” Bell said. “We’ve done it in Zimbabawe as part of a tribute to Muhammad Ali. The album title also represents our coming together when we were children and how we collectively teamed to create Kool and the Gang.”
Kool and the Gang’s legacy covers multiple decades of progress and innovation. They’ve sold more than 70 million albums worldwide, issued more than 23 studio albums and 70 singles. Their biggest album was “Emergency” in 1984, with two million copies sold, and the single”Celebrate” their greatest crossover hit, hitting number one in 1980. They’ve maintained popularity through multiple musical changes, and today are still very much involved with contemporary developments.
“I remember when you made an album and it sold a million copies, you made a million dollars,” Bell continued. “Now with streaming, you have to identify which stream you’re on and then figure out things from there. But we’re not complaining, the business is what it is and you have to adjust and work within it. We do Zoom interviews and social media things, and we’re staying active.” They have also continued their philanthropic efforts with an educational advocacy program that they began in 1987, one that’s attracted not only widespread support but celebrity contributors.
Now there are plans both for additional domestic dates and a global tour that includes appearances in France, Germany, England, and Switzerland as well concerts in Hawaii, California and Michigan. “Yes, we had a down period there due to COVID-19, and we’re sure hoping that doesn’t rear up again,” Bell concluded. “But assuming it doesn’t, this is going to be a very busy period for us and we’re really looking forward to it.”
Kool and the Gang at the Schmerhorn Symphony Center, Sunday, 7:30 p.m.