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UNCF gets ‘Kool’ for students

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What can be more fulfilling than helping students get in and stay in college?

Answer: Helping students while partying with Kool & The Gang, one of the most popular music groups of all time.

The band, known for classics such as “Hollywood Swinging” and “Celebration,” will headline the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) Masked Ball on Dec. 14.

The Masked Ball is one of the major fundraisers hosted by UNCF, which provides funds for scholarships that are awarded to more than 10,000 students each year through scholarship and internship programs.

“We have grown this event from a reception to a gala that’s raising significant dollars with one goal in mind, and that is building the next generation of leaders,” said Andrea Neely, regional development director for UNCF.

Now in its 10th year, the Masked Ball has presented Al Jarreau, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle and other entertainers committed to higher education opportunities.

Comedian Cedric the Entertainer, who will serve as the evening’s emcee, is best known for his appearances in hit films as such as “Barbershop,” “Be Cool,” “Johnson Family Vacation” and “The Original Kings of Comedy,” among many others. Since 2001, his charitable foundation has partnered with UNCF, providing scholarships for students in his hometown of St. Louis.

When deciding on a music guest, organizers chose Kool & The Gang, a group that is still exciting after four decades.

“We’re having ‘a celebration,’ and they are a fun group with a long history of hits,” Neely said.

Co-founding member Robert “Kool” Bell told the Recorder that the band is looking forward to coming to Indianapolis for a good cause.

“We are very excited about participating in this event,” said Bell, who plays bass guitar. “We have enjoyed coming to ‘Naptown’ for many years. We’ve been there for the 500 Race, Indiana Black Expo and concerts. It’s a really fun city.”

Kool & The Gang was formed as a jazz group during the mid 1960s in Jersey City, N.J

Evolving to R&B and funk, they released the 1973 party favorites “Jungle Boogie,” “Funky Stuff” and “Hollywood Swinging,” followed by “Spirit of the Boogie” (1975) and 1976’s “Open Sesame,” from the disco film “Saturday Night Fever.”

In 1979, the group recruited charismatic singer James “J.T.” Taylor, then released the successful singles “Ladies Night” and “Too Hot.”

Over the next decade, Kool & The Gang adopted a pop-flavored R&B style, issuing hits such as the good time anthem “Celebration” (1980), “Get Down on It” (1981), the calypso flavored “Joanna” (1983) and 1985’s “Fresh” and “Cherish.”

With those crossover singles, Kool & The Gang filled arenas around the world.

After 1987’s “Stone Love,” however, the band disappeared from the charts, Taylor left to pursue a solo career and Kool and The Gang seemed headed for the “oldies” circuit.

Yet in the 1990s, a new generation of fans discovered the group’s musical genius, thanks in part to samples by rappers like Will Smith and Tupac.

Also, Kool & The Gang continued releasing albums, including 2007’s “Still Kool,” featuring current lead singer Shawn McQuiller. Its mid-tempo “Steppin’ Into Love,” put the group back in the Top 10 of Billboard’s music chart.

With most of its original members, Kool & The Gang is still a popular concert act.

Bell noted that the group’s star, however, would not continue to shine without the support of fans.

“They are still with us, and we appreciate them,” Bell said. “This is a business where you can be famous one minute and gone the next, but thanks to the fans we have been around for over 40 years.”

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