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Ronnie Wilson, co-founder of the Gap Band, has died at age 73

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now we pay tribute to Ronnie Wilson, a founding member of The Gap Band. With hits like "You Dropped A Bomb On Me" and "Early In The Morning," The Gap Band dominated the R&B charts in the 1980s. Decades later, the group's music has been sampled by many modern artists. Ronnie Wilson's death this week was announced by his wife on social media. He was 73 years old. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has more.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: The Gap Band made music that thumped in your heart and made you want to dance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BURN RUBBER ON ME")

THE GAP BAND: (Singing) I gave you my money. I gave you my time. Why you wanna hurt me, girl?

BLAIR: Ronnie Wilson was the oldest of three brothers who formed The Gap Band. Charles sang lead vocals, and Robert played bass, guitar and sang backup. They were raised in their father's Pentecostal church in Tulsa, Okla. Their mother played piano, and their father insisted their sons learn to play multiple instruments. Ronnie played horns, percussion and also sang backup.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU DROPPED A BOMB ON ME")

THE GAP BAND: (Singing) You turned me out. You turned me on. And then you dropped me to the ground. You dropped a bomb on me. You turned me out, and you turned me on. You dropped a bomb on me.

BLAIR: Originally, the Wilson brothers named their group after Greenwood, Archer and Pine Streets, the area that made Black Wall Street, the district destroyed in the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. Eventually, the name was shortened to The Gap Band.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE GAP BAND SONG, "BACKBONE")

BLAIR: Another musician from Oklahoma, the late Leon Russell, helped introduce the band to a wider audience. The Gap Band's first album was released on Russell's record label.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BACKBONE")

THE GAP BAND: (Singing) How a good man bags a good woman, I know it's true. When the going gets rough and you feel like quitting, she'll see you through.

BLAIR: In a 1974 interview, Leon Russell said the Wilson brothers knew how to put a song across.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEON RUSSELL: Most of them come from the church. They know how to get the people on their feet and know how to do something (ph). That's what I like about The Gap Band.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EARLY IN THE MORNING")

THE GAP BAND: (Singing) So I got to get up early in the morning, find me another lover. So I got to get up...

BLAIR: The Gap Band's sound reached all corners of the music industry. Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and Tyler, The Creator sampled their songs. Even artists like George Michael and Dave Grohl cited the band's influence. In his later years, Ronnie Wilson was involved in the music ministry of San Antonio's Community Bible Church. Robert died of a heart attack in 2010. On Twitter, Charlie thanked people for sharing their prayers and love regarding the loss of my brother. In a Facebook post, Ronnie's wife Linda called him a genius with creating, producing and playing, something he did from childhood to his early 70s.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EARLY IN THE MORNING")

THE GAP BAND: (Singing) So I got to get up early in the morning to find me another lover. So I got to get up early... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.