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Kool & the Gang co-founder dies at 57

Claydes Charles Smith, the group's lead guitarist, had faced a long illness that forced him to stop touring.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Claydes Charles Smith, a co-founder and lead guitarist of the group Kool & the Gang, has died. He was 57.

Smith died in Maplewood, New Jersey, on Tuesday after a long illness, publicist David Brokaw said Thursday. Brokaw did not know the cause of death.

"We've lost a member of our family, as well as an infinitely creative and gifted artist who was with the band from the very beginning," band manager Tia Sinclair said in a statement.

Kool & the Gang grew from jazz roots in the 1960s to become one of the major groups of the 1970s, blending jazz, funk, R&B and pop. After a downturn, the group enjoyed a return to stardom in the '80s.

Smith, who was known as Charles Smith, wrote the hits "Joanna" and "Take My Heart," and was a co-writer of others, including "Celebration," "Hollywood Swinging" and "Jungle Boogie."

Born on Sept. 6, 1948, he was introduced to jazz guitar by his father in the early 1960s.

Later in that decade he was in a group of New Jersey jazz musicians, including Ronald Bell (later Khalis Bayyan), Robert "Kool" Bell, George Brown, Dennis Thomas and Robert "Spike" Mickens, who became Kool & the Gang. Other members would include lead singer James "JT" Taylor.

Illness forced Smith to stop touring with the group in January.