Ronald Nathan Bell, also known as Khalis Bayyan (November 1, 1951 – September 9, 2020), was an American composer, singer, songwriter, arranger, producer, and co-founding member of Kool & the Gang.
Bell was born in Youngstown, Ohio, United States, in November 1951 to Aminah Bayyan (1932–2014) and Robert “Bobby” Bell (1929–1985), a professional boxer and Golden Gloves amateur boxing winner who traveled extensively on the boxing circuit throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In the segregated South, black musical acts and boxers on tour would often find themselves in the same accommodations, town after town, and Bell’s father would often bring home his jazz friends’ recordings. It was during those years on the road that his father became friends with Miles Davis and a roommate to Thelonious Monk.
“It was those albums that my dad brought home that drew me to jazz,” says Khalis. “As I child, I was influenced by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Cannonball Adderley. I taught myself how to play saxophone by copying records by Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, and Wayne Shorter.”
The family moved to Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1960. In 1964, the young Ronald Bell and his brother, Robert “Kool” Bell, joined neighborhood friends Spike Mickens, Dennis Thomas, Ricky Westfield, George Brown, and Charles Smith to create a distinctive musical blend of jazz, soul, and funk. At first calling themselves “The Jazziacs”, the band went through various name changes – the New Dimensions, the Soul Town Band, and Kool & the Flames before settling on Kool & the Gang launched in 1969.
Bell composed, arranged, produced and performed some of the most popular music. A self-taught musician, his signature sound can be heard on the band’s horn lines, bass, synthesizer and vocals. He wrote and produced many of the band’s songs including “Celebration”, “Cherish”, “Jungle Boogie”, “Summer Madness”, and “Open Sesame”.
Bell was Muslim, and was given the name Khalis Bayyan by Imam Warith Deen Mohammed. He was also the father of singer Rachid “Rasalus” Bell, who often performs under the stage name Ra.
Bell died at his home in the United States Virgin Islands on September 9, 2020, at age 68. No cause was given, but the death was described as sudden.