The group's main members over the years included brothers Robert Bell (known as "Kool") on bass and Ronald Bell on tenor saxophone, lead vocalist James "J.T." Taylor, George Brown on drums, Robert Mickens on trumpet, Dennis Thomas on alto saxophone, Claydes Charles Smith on guitar, and Rick Westfield on keyboards. The Bell brothers' father was an acquaintance of Thelonious Monk, and the brothers were friends with Leon Thomas.

In 1964 Robert formed an instrumental band called the Jazziacs with five high-school friends. They changed their name to "Kool & the Flames" in 1967, then "Kool & the Gang" in 1969 (to avoid confusion with James Brown's Famous Flames) and were signed by Gene Redd to his new record label De-Lite Records in 1969.

The late 1970s saw a lull in Kool & the Gang's output except for the album Open Sesame, which yielded the title track "Open Sesame", achieving some success in the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. New lead singer James "J.T." Taylor then joined the group, starting with 1979's Ladies' Night, which would go on to be top 5 hit.

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