Ronnie Wilson, Gap Band Co-Founder, Dead at 73

L-R: Ronnie, Robert and Charlie Wilson of The Gap Band in 1983
Photo Credit
David Corio/Redferns

Ronnie Wilson, a multi-instrumentalist and co-founder of The Gap Band, has died. He was 73 years old.

TMZ confirmed his passing on Tuesday (Nov. 2) after suffering a stroke the week before. His widow, Linda Boulware-Wilson, memorialized him in a statement as a "genius with creating, producing and playing the flugelhorn, trumpet, keyboards and singing music."

Born in Tulsa, OK, Ronnie and his brothers Charlie and Robert founded The Gap Band in 1974, naming the group after three streets in the town's Greenwood neighborhood (Greenwood, Archer and Pine) as a way of commemorating the terrible history of racial violence that plagued the community in the 1920s. The band backed Leon Russell on his 1974 album Stop All That Jazz but wouldn't find a greater audience until teaming up with record mogul Lonnie Simmons and joining his Total Experience roster.

In the late '70s and early '80s, the group's blend of traditional funk and electronic elements - whooping synthesizers alongside hip-shaking bottom end - started to take hold of the public consciousness. Between 1979 and 1990, seven Gap Band albums and 15 of their singles reached the Top 10 of Billboard's soul album and single charts, including "Oops Upside Your Head," "Burn Rubber on Me," "Outstanding" and "You Dropped a Bomb on Me," which crossed over into the Top 40 of the magazine's Hot 100.

The Gap Band recorded through the end of the 20th century. In the 2000s, Charlie Wilson reactivated his solo career, releasing an impressive four Top 10 albums between 2005 and 2017. The group unofficially ended after Robert Wilson died of a heart attack in 2010; five years later, Ronnie's attempt to start a new touring version of the group found him and Charlie going to court. Nonetheless, The Gap Band remained wildly influential on multiple generations of soul and hip-hop artists. Their work is credited with providing a foundation for the New Jack swing sound in the late '80s and early '90s; their work was sampled by a cadre of rappers (most famously N.W.A. on the title track to their breakthrough album Straight Outta Compton); and "Oops Upside Your Head" was determined to have influenced Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars' 2013 blockbuster "Uptown Funk" enough for the Wilson brothers to eventually get writing credits.

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