Kenny Rogers: Country music legend dies aged 81

kenny rogers

Kenneth Ray Rogers (August 21, 1938 – March 20, 2020) was an American singer, songwriter, actor, record producer, and entrepreneur.

Kenny Rogers was the fourth of eight children born on August 21, 1938, in Houston, Texas.

He was a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Although he was most successful with country audiences, Kenny Rogers had more than 120 hit singles across various music genres, topped the country and pop album charts for more than 200 weeks in the United States, and sold over 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

In a recording career dating back to the 1950s, Rogers moved from teenage rock’n’roll through psychedelic rock to become a country-pop crossover artist of the 1970s and 1980s. He had a minor solo hit in 1957 called “That Crazy Feeling”. After sales slowed down, Rogers joined a jazz group called the Bobby Doyle Three, who got a lot of work in clubs thanks to their fan following but they disbanded in 1965.

Kenny Rogers also worked as a producer, writer and session musician for other performers, including country artists Mickey Gilley and Eddy Arnold.

In 1966 he joined the New Christy Minstrels as a singer and double bass player. But in 1967, Feeling that the Minstrels were not offering the success they wanted, Rogers and fellow members Mike Settle, Terry Williams, and Thelma Camacho left the group. They formed the First Edition in 1967 (later renamed “Kenny Rogers and the First Edition”). They were later joined by Kin Vassy. They chalked up a string of hits on both the pop and country charts, including “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”, “But You Know I Love You”, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”, “Tell It All, Brother”, “Reuben James”, and “Something’s Burning”.

As Kenny Rogers took an increased leadership role in the First Edition, and following the success of 1969’s “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”, the band gradually changed styles to a more country feel. The eventually broke up in 1975–1976.

Kenny Rogers then embarked on a very long and highly successful solo career, which included several successful collaborations, including duets with singers Dolly Parton (the classic “Islands in the Stream”) and Sheena Easton (a Top 10 hit Bob Seger cover “We’ve Got Tonight”), and a song writing partnership with Lionel Richie who wrote and produced Rogers’ No. 1 hit “Lady”.

The single “Lucille” (1977) was a major hit, reached number one on the pop charts in 12 countries, and sold over five million copies, firmly establishing Kenny Rogers’ post-First Edition career. On the strength of “Lucille”, the album Kenny Rogers reached No.1 on the Billboard Country Album Chart, and more success followed, including the multi-platinum selling album The Gambler in 1978, and another international Number 1 single, “Coward of the County”, taken from the equally successful album, Kenny.

“The Gambler”, became his signature song and was a cross-over hit that won him a Grammy Award in 1980 and was selected in 2018 for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress. He also developed the Gambler persona into a character for a successful series of television films starting with 1980’s Emmy-nominated Kenny Rogers as The Gambler.

Two of his albums, The Gambler and Kenny, were featured in the poll of “The 200 Most Influential Country Albums Ever”. He was voted the “Favorite Singer of All Time” in a 1986 joint poll by readers of both USA Today and People. He has received numerous awards such as the AMAs, Grammys, ACMs and CMAs, as well as a lifetime achievement award for a career spanning six decades in 2003. Later success included the 2006 album release, Water & Bridges, an across the board hit, that hit the Top 5 in the Billboard Country Albums sales charts, also charting in the Top 15 of the Billboard 200. The first single from the album, “I Can’t Unlove You”, was also a sizable chart hit.

In the 21st century, Kenny Rogers was back at No. 1 for the first time in more than a decade with the 2000 single “Buy Me a Rose”. In doing so, he broke a 26-year-old record held by Hank Snow (who, in April 1974, was aged 59 when he scored with “Hello Love”). Rogers held the record until 2003, when then 70-year-old Willie Nelson became the oldest artist to have a No. 1 on the country charts with his duet with Toby Keith, “Beer for My Horses”.

Kenny Rogers remained a popular entertainer around the world and continued to tour regularly until his retirement in 2017.

He was also a co-founder of the restaurant chain Kenny Rogers Roasters in collaboration with John Y. Brown Jr, former Kentucky Fried Chicken CEO.

On March 20, 2020, Rogers died under hospice care at his home in Sandy Springs, Georgia from natural causes, aged 81.

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