GFM Spotlight Interview: Robert "Kool" Bell Talks "Celebration" at 40, Le Kool Champagne & Not Being in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Grown Folks Music had the honor of speaking with R&B and funk legend Robert "Kool" Bell. This year Kool & the Gang's classic hit "Celebration" is turning 40, and it remains an international anthem that has brought millions together, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or beliefs.

"Celebration" became an American theme song-- from sporting events to constant play in conjunction with the release of U.S. hostages from Iran in early 1981. Shortly after that event, the song went to the number one spot on Billboard's Hot 100 Pop Singles Chart for two consecutive weeks.

Since 1964, Robert Bell and Kool & the Gang have made their mark on the music scene with a sound that has combined mixed jazz with funk, soul and pop.  Now, the co-founder & bandleader of the Grammy Award-winning legendary group, in partnership with the France-based House of Berthelot – makers of fine champagne is celebrating the creation of a fine “Kool” vintage, Le Kool Champagne.

Kool talked with us about "Celebration", how Kool & the Gang came to be and his new venture in the fine beverage world. Read below and enjoy.

"A Celebration to Last Throughout the Years"

GFM: This year [2020] marks the 40th anniversary of the song "Celebration". The song went #1 and top 40 in 11 countries around the world. The song is synonymous with celebrations-- sporting events, weddings-- you name it. Were you, or are you surprised at the way the song became so intertwined with American culture?

Robert "Kool" Bell: Yes. We were surprised. We're very thankful that the song did what it has done for 40 years. The song was created after "Ladies Night". We had won two American Music Awards after Ladies Night and we were inspired by that to write the song "Celebration".

GFM: I read that you wanted to make an anthem, and you certainly did that with the song. But, if you could take us back to the crafting of the song... particularly the sound... especially coming out of the disco era. What was the creative process around making the record.

Robert "Kool" Bell: Actually, my brother [Ronald Bell] was the key writer of the song. Like I said, it was from the energy of "Ladies Night" and the fact that we were celebrating and that we had just added James "JT" Taylor to the group. We didn't have a lead singer before. This was the first song-- "Ladies Night"-- with the lead singer. From that my brother said, 'I have an idea for this song [called] "Celebration".

The vamp out of the song "Ladies Night" is, "Come on let's celebrate. This is your night [your night]. This is your night. Let's celebrate." [He said,] I want to take that song... that last line... and I want to make a song out of it called "Celebration". So, he had the music track, and it had that kind of like down-home feeling when we listened to it. Then, we all worked together on the lyrics and then the little "yahoo" thing had that little country vibe to it. With all of that we still didn't know how strong that song was going to become.

The Jazziacs/Kool & the Flames

GFM: While "Celebration" is turning 40, Kool & the Gang as a the band has been around much longer than that. In fact, "Celebration" appears on your 12th album. Tell us the story of how you became Robert "Kool" and how the band about.

Robert "Kool" Bell: The group started in 1964. At that time we called ourselves The Jazziacs. That was for the love of jazz. We were listening to John Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard , Miles Davis, Ron Carter-- the great jazz artists. Then we got involved with the organization called Soul Town. It was called the Soul Town Revue. We became the backup band for the Soul Town Revue and they called us the Soul Town Band.

The Soul Town Revue was trying to be like Motown. We would have to back up about 15 singers when we did the shows with the Soul Town Revue as the Soul Town  Band. We would have to learn all those songs which were Motown songs. This was back in Jersey City. We were with the organization for a year and we decided to move on. We were working in a club in Newark, New Jersey. One of the emcees came up with an idea. He had a block of ice that had "Cool and the Flame" carved in ice and he had under there a flame. It was like a melting concept.  So, we became Kool and the Flames.

We were thinking about what to call ourselves. But, at that time you had James Brown and the Famous Flames. We didn't want to have any problems with "The Godfather", so we said, 'Well, why don't we just change it to Kool and the Gang? It has a street sound. It has elements of jazz [and] elements of funk.' We became Kool & the Gang in 1968 and in 1969 our first record came out as Kool & the Gang.

Last year, in 2019, we were celebrating 50 years. Now we're doing 50 and more, because now this is 2020 and of course we've got "Celebration" at 40.

"Celebration" in Space

GFM: While "Celebration" is probably the most recognizable around the world it certainly isn't Kool & the Gang's only hit. Your songs have been sampled and used in, video games, movies and television. The question is probably where haven't Your  songs been used. What's been the most surprising  way that you've seen  the song "Celebration" or any of your songs used? What been the most surprising way or maybe even your favorite place or way that you've seen your songs used?

Robert "Kool" Bell: "Celebration" has been used for quite a few different events as you know.  Super Bowls, World Series, birthdays, bar mitzvahs... a lot of different uses. One that was most surprising was when they played "Celebration" in the space station. The astronauts got up they were floating around and "Celebration" was playing. Now that was most surprising.

Le Kool Champagne

GFM: You've created a legacy with your music. Now, you're expanding your brand with a champagne. Tell us about Le Kool Champagne and how that business venture came about.

Robert "Kool" Bell: I had been drinking champagne off and on for years. We play Europe a lot. We have a big fan base in France. I came up with this idea of coming up with my own champagne and calling it Le Kool. L-E- K-O-O-L.  Being that I was in France I met the Berthelot family which is one of the families in champagne country. The area is called Champagne and it's also called Reims. That's where they make Dom Perignon, Cristal, Moet & Chandon and Berloque.  I said, 'Well this is the time for me to come up with this concept.' So, I met with the Berthelot people and we became partners and they started to develop a champagne called Le Kool Champagne.

They also told me that this particular area where these grapes were being grown is where they have their grand cru [champagne]. I drank champagne but I didn't know all the different [types]. I just drank champagne. I didn't know whether it was a brut or a le blanc or whatever [laughs]. They said, 'Well this is a grand cru.' We did the deal away [outside the United States] for a while and started working on it and we're coming out this year here in America-- Le Kool Champagne.

Find out more about Le Kool Champagne here

GFM: When you first started in music did you ever imagine that you would be expanding your brand in a way that wasn't about music... making champagne... and in a way that these artists are doing so commonly now?

Robert "Kool" Bell: That's what a lot of artists are doing. Especially in the wine business. I see a lot of artists and ball players coming out with their own wine. Champagne is owned by the French. So, you can't call it champagne unless it comes from the champagne territory. Now you have sparkling wine, Prosecco and bubbling wine and that... but that's not champagne.

Coming up, it was about the music and wanting to be successful in what we were doing. Like I said, backing up these groups and coming up with the name Kool & the Gang. Working through the '70s, we were able to come up with a couple of big hits in the '70s like "Hollywood Swinging" and "Jungle Boogie" and "Funky Stuff".

The other surprise was "Summer Madness". "Summer Madness" became a very big record for us. It was in the first movie of the Rocky movies. Then, there was "Open Sesame". "Open Sesame" was a part of Saturday Night Fever, which was a huge record before Michael [Jackson] came with Thriller and knocked us out of the box [laughs]. That's when we had to go get a singer. We came up with James JT Taylor and we came up with "Ladies Night". Then of course, "Ladies Night", "Celebration", Cherish," "Get Down On it" "Fresh", "Emergency" and on and on.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

GFM: You've done so much in music. You just ran down so much that you've accomplished. It blew my mind when I found out that you are NOT in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Would induction in the hall of fame be the cherry on top for you?

Robert "Kool" Bell: I would think so. As a matter of fact I was born in Youngstown, Ohio. The group started in 1964 in Jersey City. But yes, we're waiting. We have received quite a few [awards]... Soul Train Awards, Songwriters Awards, New Jersey Awards... I guess one day the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will come.

Grown Folks Music

GFM: What is your definition of Grown Folks Music?

Robert "Kool" Bell: I would say the definition is people who were brought up through the '60s, '70s and the '80s and of course all the way up until today. That was grown folks music. We used to listen to James Brown a lot, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations. The grooves [and] the lyrics meant something-- "Since I Lost My Baby", "Beauty's Only Skin Deep." That's grown folks music. Marvin Gaye-- with the songs and the hits that he had-- to me that's grown folks music.

GFM's Official 2018 Memorial Day Weekend Playlist

#Growns you already know what it is... it's almost the weekend and not just any weekend... a holiday weekend and by most accounts the beginning of summer. Heavy on the '70s and '80s sauce-- this playlist is guaranteed to be a hit with the towel on the shoulder stay away from my grill crowd as well as the supreme trash-talker at the spades table. I mean you've got

Maze (Gotta have Maze)
The Commodores
Teena Marie
Kool & The Gang
King Floyd
Roy Ayers

Just to name a few. 150 tracks 12 hours and 41 minutes of (mostly) gettin' down. Charcoal and lighter fluid mayne. Tell your peoples GFM's got what they need for the paper plate and aluminum foil gang takeover. Ya heard.


Number One R&B Hits of the '80s

The Number One R&B Hits Of the '80s begin with Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" and end the decade with "Tender Lover" from Babyface. A pretty representative pair of bookends - The Disco Sound of "Rock With You" and the Electro-Funk underpinnings married to Pop Songcraft sensibilities of "Tender Lover". The decade saw a lot of changes in technology and culture that influenced the music.

This playlist simply seeks to highlight for historical purposes all of the songs that rose to the position of number one on the Billboard R&B Charts as a top-level peek into what was happening musically during the decade. We know that there are numerous musical acts and musical movements that are not reflected herein. 223 different songs by 128 different artists(a few songs and artists are missing from our playlist because: Spotify). We invite you to take a moment and consider who hit number one, who didn't and perhaps who hit number one never to be heard from again?

Please know we're not placing a premium on topping the chart. There are a number of factors as we know that contribute to a song acquiring enough mind-share to become as ubiquitous as a number one song becomes. More than anything this view of what was popular can be the entry point for a number of interesting conversations.

1. We all know about the dominance of Michael Jackson during the decade of Thriller but looking at the R&B charts Michael had some stiff competition from another Jackson... Freddie.

2. Noticeably absent from the number one spot on the R&B charts during the decade are The Pointer Sisters. Their success crossed over for certain but why didn't it cross back?

3. Speaking of crossover... from the crossover to the R&B charts side of the game the only representers for the decade are Hall & Oates, George Michael, and Michael McDonald as part of his duet with Patti Labelle. Discuss.

4. The period from 1987 - 1989 was incredibly competitive as well as has the most representation of new and different artists taking the top spot, what may have spurred on that amount of diversity?

5. Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" has the distinction of holding the top spot on the R&B Charts for the longest during the decade at ten weeks. The two songs that closely trail Marvin are "That Girl" by Stevie Wonder and "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson both holding the top spot for nine weeks. This occurred between 1982 and 1983 as the decade progressed we see less and less of this type of multiweek domination by songs. Any thoughts as to why?

These are just a few items up for discussion. Feel free to use this post and playlist in your own discussions around the web and at home as well as hit us up in the comments section with your thoughts, questions etc.,

Please subscribe to this and all over our playlists by going here.



GFM's "F!ck Cupid!!" Valentine's Mixtape!!!

Yeah, we know it's "Valentine's Day" but who said we gotta pay Cupid some damn tribute!!!! If you're one of those lovesick puppies and hopeless romantics looking for your fix on V-Day, we got your fix but it sure as hell ain't what you think!!! On this day of love, we wanted to send Cupid a special mixtape! A list of songs that really express our deep passion in the subject of amour. So if love has kicked you in the ass, made a complete fool of you, had you crying like Lenny Williams and broadcasted your shame all over Facebook and Twitter, then welcome my friends to our official "F!ck, Cupid,!!" mixtape!! A Valentine's mix that is sure to have you burning down someone's car and lighting a cigarette afterward!!!

And Cupid, in case you missed our sentiments, let us say it again.........."F**K YOU!!!" (in my Cee-Lo voice)Read more


DJ Phaze Presents: I Love the 80's (Soul/R&B) Mixtape

Don't date yourself, but it's likely this was the soundtrack for your high school, middle school or even college years. Either way, the 80's were a fun loving, horrible fashion, good time having era. If you enjoyed his 80's MTV flashback mix, add this to your collection for a dash of 80's soul. Big ups to DJ Phaze for blessing us with another great mix. Hit the break for the playlist and enjoy!

GFM I Love the 80's Soul & RnB by GrownFolksMusic

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Kool & The Gang - Summer Madness (2000 Live)

From their 1974 album, Light of Worlds (De Lite), "Summer Madness".

Kool & The Gang - Jungle boogie 74 dance


Kool & The Gang - Big Fun