In 1964, thirteen-year-old Robert Bell, his brother Ronald, and five high-school friends in Jersey City, New Jersey, formed an instrumental band called the Jazziacs. 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 Bell brothers’ father Bobby and uncle Tommy were boxers. They moved to New York to train and lived in the same apartment building as Thelonious Monk, who became Robert’s godfather when he was born. Miles Davis would drop by because he wanted to be a boxer. They played occasionally with McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders, and Leon Thomas.