George Brown, funky drummer of Kool & the Gang, dies at 74 after lung cancer battle

Nov. 18 (UPI) -- George Brown, whose funk-inspired drumbeats defined numerous breakaway hits by the Grammy Award-winning band Kool & the Gang, died Thursday at a hospital in Long Beach, Calif. He was 74.

Brown's death after a three-year battle with lung cancer was confirmed by a publicist, as well as a memorial posted Friday to the band's verified Instagram page, alongside a smiling photo of Brown.

"In loving memory of our dear brother, co-founder and the funkiest drummer the world has ever seen," the message reads. "His beautiful soul is now at rest. We love you, George. Thank you for giving us the sound of happiness."

Brown returned to the band's tour in 2022 after he recovered from surgery and chemotherapy, however, the cancer returned earlier this year, leading to his most recent hospitalization.

The drummer founded the band as a high school student in New Jersey in 1964 alongside brothers Ronald 'Khalis' Bell and Robert "Kool" Bell and several other friends. He was the rhythmic force behind the group's most successful hits, including "Hollywood Swinging," "Ladies Night," "Get Down on It," "Joanna," "Celebration," and "Jungle Boogie," which was featured in the 1994 film, Pulp Fiction.

The popular anthems were part of a streak of hits produced by the group throughout the 1980s that have since become an enduring American pastime while the band continues to perform live shows after six decades.

The band continues to be sampled in modern music, especially in songs by hip-hop artists.

The members, including Spike Mickens, Dennis "Dee Tee" Thomas and Charles Smith, initially envisioned themselves as a jazz ensemble before experimenting with funk, disco and soul music, which eventually found its way into their sound, resulting in broad success for the band.

His death follows the death of bandmate Ronald Bell, who passed away in September 2020 at age of 68; as well as the death of co-founder Dennis Thomas in August 2021 at age 70.

Brown was born in Jersey City on Jan. 15, 1949, and was raised by blue-collar parents who introduced him to music at a young age.

In his memoir published earlier this year, Brown revealed that he showed an early interest in drumming and that he saved his money from a newspaper route to buy his first trap set.

The band performed for five years before the members signed its first record deal in 1969 and together soared to greater heights after J.T. Taylor joined the group in 1979 as the lead vocalist.

Brown is survived by his wife, Hanh Brown, and five children, Dorian Melvin Brown, Jorge Lewis Brown, Gregory Brown, Jordan Xuan Clarence Brown and Aaron Tien Joseph Brown.