Thursday, August 9, 2018
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Robert “Kool” Bell and his younger brother Ronald will return to the city of their birth on Friday when their band, Kool & the Gang, performs a concert at Stambaugh Auditorium.
The Bell brothers lived in the city in the 1950s, before their family moved to New Jersey in 1960 when Robert was just 10 years old. They have returned to Youngstown and Northeast Ohio several times over the years for events and concerts – most recently a 2016 show at Blossom Music Center. But this will be the first time in memory that the act has performed in Youngstown.
What: Kool & the Gang
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Stambaugh Auditorium, 1000 Fifth Ave., Youngstown
Tickets: $40, $55, $75 and $90; at stambaughauditorium.com, by phone at 330-259-0555 and at the box office
The Bell family lived on Prospect Street on the East Side in the ’50s. In a 2016 interview with The Vindicator, Robert recalled attending Lincoln Elementary School and swimming in local pools.
“My grandfather was a mechanic,” Robert said. “I was told by my mother that my grandpops would keep me under the car with him. They thought I was going to be a little grease monkey. I built my first motorbike when I was 10. I took a lawnmower motor and put it on a bicycle frame. I was riding around the North Side and East Side of Youngstown. That’s why I thought I was going to be a mechanic. Right after that, we moved to Jersey City, N.J., but we had music around the house in Youngstown. My family played, but nothing professionally.”
Robert started his first band in 1964 in Jersey City when he was in high school. It was the start of his landmark career that has produced timeless hits such as “Get Down on It,” “Celebration,” “Too Hot,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Ladies Night.”
Kool & the Gang has left its mark on at least three generations of pop music. Along the way, it has earned two Grammy Awards and seven American Music Awards, while scoring 25 Top 10 R&B hits, nine Top 10 Pop hits and 31 gold and platinum albums.
The act has performed continuously for the past 44 years, longer than any R&B group in history.
The group still enjoys global fame due in part to its widely sampled catalog. Kool & the Gang’s drum beats, bass, guitar and signature horn lines lace the tracks of numerous artists including the Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Cypress Hill, and P. Diddy.
The act is heavily sampled in hip-hop songs, and its music is also featured on many movie soundtracks, including “Rocky,” “Saturday Night Fever” and “Pulp Fiction.”
While Kool & the Gang continues to maintain a global touring schedule, it has appeared with many rock artists over the years, including Kid Rock, Dave Matthews Band, Elton John, The Roots and a 50-city tour with Van Halen in 2012.
The band has also racked up many honors, but its most recent one might be its most significant one.
Robert and Ronald Bell were inducted into the prestigious Songwriters Hall of Fame at a June 14 ceremony in New York, along with band members George Brown and James “JT” Taylor. The act gave a memorable performance of “Celebration” at the ceremony that had the audience out of its seats and dancing.