Ronnie Wilson, Gap Band Founding Member, Dead at 73

Ronnie Wilson, right, with brother Charlie in the Gap Band.
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Ronnie Wilson, a founding musician of the widely influential R&B group the Gap Band, died on November 2 at age 73. His wife, Linda Boulware-Wilson, confirmed to TMZ he died in the hospital after a stroke last week put him in a semicoma. “Ronnie Wilson was a genius with creating, producing, and playing the flugelhorn, trumpet, keyboards, and singing music, from childhood to his early seventies,” Boulware-Wilson wrote in a Facebook post. Wilson was an instrumentalist, songwriter, and singer in the Gap Band, which he formed in the 1970s alongside his brothers, Charlie and Robert. They named the group after Greenwood, Archer, and Pine streets in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in remembrance of the Tulsa race massacre, which took place near where they grew up. The band first found success on its third album and first for a major label, 1979’s The Gap Band, which reached the top ten on Billboard’s Top Soul Albums chart. The Gap Band went on to log three No. 1 albums on the chart in the early 1980s along with two platinum and two gold albums. The group’s No. 1’s on the R&B Songs chart included “Burn Rubber on Me (Why You Wanna Hurt Me),” “Early in the Morning,” “Outstanding,” and “All of My Love.” The band released its 15th and final studio album, Y2K: Funkin’ Till 2000 Comez, in 1999. Robert Wilson, who played guitar in the band, died in 2010.

The Gap Band additionally found success in samples, most notably via N.W.A.’s signature song “Straight Outta Compton,” which sampled “Burn Rubber on Me.” The group has also been sampled by artists from Public Enemy to Janet Jackson to Tyler, the Creator. In 2015, the Gap Band, including Ronnie Wilson, became credited songwriters on Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk” following a settlement over similarities to the band’s song “Oops Upside Your Head.”

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