Celebrate good times
Robert ‘Kool’ Bell, brother first inductees
YOUNGSTOWN — Friends, family and fans gathered in the community room of the Covelli Centre on Saturday afternoon to celebrate Robert “Kool” Bell of Kool & The Gang as he and his brother, Ronald Bell, were named the inaugural inductees of the Youngstown Walk of Fame.
The ceremony was supposed to take place at Wean Park, but it was moved inside because of rain.
Robert plays bass guitar for the group and Ronald, who died in 2020, played tenor saxophone. Kool & The Gang originated in Jersey City, New Jersey, in the 1960s, but the Bell brothers were born and spent their early childhood years in Youngstown.
The group is known for hit songs like “Get Down on It” and “Celebration,” and they were recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2015. The band has a new album scheduled for release July 14.
While Kool & The Gang has earned many accolades over the years, Robert said that being the first person inducted into the Youngstown Walk of Fame is incredibly special.
“It means a whole lot to me,” he said. “We got a star in Hollywood about seven years ago. It took a long time to get that, and we’d even wrote a song about Hollywood. But here, I was born here. So it feels very good.”
When the Bell brothers and their family moved to Jersey City in 1960, Robert said they had no idea they eventually would be a part of the band. Robert said the group went through several names before eventually settling on Kool & The Gang, and the rest was history.
“When I left here and went to Jersey City in 1960, I didn’t know there was going to be a Kool & The Gang,” Bell said. “We started off as the Jazziacs, The Soul Town Band, Kool & The Flames — we had to change that one because of James Brown and The Famous Flames — and then we came out with our very first record in 1969 called ‘Kool & The Gang.’ It was great to be able to leave here, go to Jersey and become successful, then to come back here and feel so much love here.”
The Walk of Fame, which will be located in Wean Park, comes as part of the city of Youngstown’s desire to honor individuals like the Bell brothers who had incredibly successful careers, but started in the city.
Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said that with Kool & The Gang performing at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre on Saturday night, it was a great opportunity to begin the Walk of Fame.
“The Walk of Fame came about when we realized Kool was going to come put on a concert,” Brown said. “We wondered how we could recognize them, and then we came up with the Walk of Fame. (Robert) is coming to do a concert, let’s capitalize while he’s here. Why not love on him while we can?”
Councilman Julius T. Oliver, D-1st Ward, presented Bell and the group with a certificate of recognition for more than 50 years of dedication and commitment to the music industry. Brown also presented Bell with a key to the city.
“What doors will this open?” Bell asked.
“Any door you want in the city today,” Brown replied.
The star placard will be placed along the walkway in Wean Park. The sign has the name of the band on it, as well as a QR code than anyone walking by can scan to learn more about Kool & The Gang. It also has individual photos of Robert and Ronald.
Tia Sinclair Bell is the manager of the band and wife of Ronald. She said that her husband would have been honored to see Kool & The Gang memorialized in his home city.
“It’s so, for me, emotional,” she said. “My husband passed away in 2020. He would have been thrilled that this happened. Kool (Robert) and Khalis (Ronald) had been, prior to his death, kind of writing their memoirs about their life, especially their early years that formed them, here in Youngstown. Youngstown is so much a part of who they grew up to be. Their independence, their grit, their determination, it all came from their early years in Youngstown.”
The determination of the brothers who Sinclair Bell described was one of the driving factors behind the city’s creation of the Walk of Fame. Oliver said that success stories like the Bell brothers that rose out of Youngstown need to be highlighted by the city.
“People need to understand that the hardships of Youngstown is what creates greatness in Youngstown,” Oliver said. “It’s just like the process of making a diamond. That pressure turns coal into a diamond, and that’s what Youngstown does. It turns its citizens into success stories, and Kool & The Gang is a prime example of that.”