Kenny Rogers was an American singer, songwriter, record producer, actor, and entrepreneur. He recorded more than 120 hit singles of different music genres and dominated the country and pop album charts in the United States alone for over 200 individual weeks. He also sold more than a hundred million records worldwide which made him one of the best-selling music artists of all time.
Kenny Rogers was also voted by the USA Today and People magazine as the “Favorite Singer of All-Time” in 1986. He has also received a lot of awards such as the Grammys, ACMs, AMAs, and CMAs, and a lifetime achievement award in 2003 for a career that spanned for almost six decades.
Aside from being a singer and songwriter, Kenny Rogers also acted in a variety of TV shows and movies and among the most popular ones include Kenny Rogers as The Gambler, and the MacShayne series. He has also appeared on The Muppet Show. He was also a co-founder of the Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurant chain.
Early life and career
Kenny Rogers was born Kenneth Ray Rogers in Houston, Texas on August 21, 1938. He was the fourth of eight children and was of Irish and Native American ancestry. His mother was Lucille Lois, a nurse assistant, and his father was Edward Floyd Rogers, a carpenter. Kenny grew up in poor circumstances in a federal housing project.
Rogers attended Wharton Elementary School and Jefferson Davis High School. He was the first member of his family to finish high school. It was that time when he decided to pursue a career in music.
Kenny Rogers began his career in music in the mid-1950’s with the band called “The Scholars” which became popular after releasing the single, “Poor Little Doggie”. In 1958, Rogers came out with a solo record titled “That Crazy Feeling,” which became a minor hit. After that, he became part of a jazz group named The Bobby Doyle Trio, who recorded for Columbia Records and earned a number of fans.
The Bobby Doyle Trio broke up in 1965 and the following year, Kenny Rogers recorded the jazzy rock single “Here’s That Rainy Day,” which failed to take off. Rogers continued to work as a writer, session musician, and producer with other artists.
In 1966, Kenny Rogers became part an American folk music group . He was a singer in that group and a double bass player as well. However, he wasn’t happy with his association with the group because it did not offer him the success he wanted.
In 1967, Rogers formed a group named The First Edition together with his fellow Minstrel members Mike Settle, Terry Williams, and Thelma Camacho. Later on, the group was renamed Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. They created and released an collection of hits that topped the country and pop charts.
Following The First Edition’s disbandment in 1976, Rogers started a solo career, and soon developed a “middle-of-the-road” (MOR) sound that both appealed country and non-country music fans.
Solo career and peak of success
Kenny Rogers released his self-titled second album in 1977, which earned him first successes as a solo artist. Included in that album are the hit singles, “Laura (What’s He Got That I Ain’t Got)” and “Lucille.” Then he released his third solo album Daytime Friends which also became successful. This album featured the tracks “Daytime Friend”, “Desperado”, and “Rock and Roll Man”.
He released his fifth album in 1978, Love or Something Like It. The title track topped the Billboard Hot Country charts, while it peaked at #32 on the Billboard pop charts.
In November of the same year, he released his sixth studio album The Gambler. The album’s title track became a crossover hit, topping the Billboard Hot Country singles chart and #16 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 1979, his seventh album Kenny, was released. It included the singles “Coward of the Country” and “You Decorated My Life”, with the latter song peaking at #7 on the Billboard pop chart and #1 on the Billboard Hot Country singles chart. In 1980, he released his eighth album Gideon. It topped the Billboard country albums chart and #12 on the Billboard pop albums chart. It featured the international hit, “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer” in a duet with Kim Carnes. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard country singles chart and #4 on the Billboard pop chart.
In September 1980, Rogers released the song “Lady”, on his Kenny Rogers’ Greatest Hits compilation album and as a single. It was written by Lionel Richie. “Lady” became his first #1 pop hit. It also topped several the Billboard country and adult contemporary charts. It was to become one of his most famous and best-loved songs.
In 1981, Richie produced Rogers’ 11th studio album Share Your Love, which produced chart hits such as “I Don’t Need You” (#3 pop, #1 country), “Share Your Love” (#42 pop), and “Through the Years” (#13 pop, #5 pop, #1 adult contemporary). He released subsequent albums throughout the 1980s: Love Will Turn You Around, We’ve Got Tonight, Eyes That See in the Dark, What about Me?, The Heart of the Matter, They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To,I Prefer the Moonlight, and Something Inside So Strong.
He continued to chart during this decade, with hits such as “Love Will Turn You Around” (#13 pop, #1 country, #1 adult contemporary) and “What about Me?” (#15 pop, #1 adult contemporary), which he performed with Carnes (again) and James Ingram. Although the pop hits were not as big as in the past decade, they continued to lord over the country singles chart. Throughout the 1990s, Rogers’ songs continued being country music chart hits, and minor pop hits.
Later life and career
At this point in Rogers’ career, he was unable to score hits on either pop or country any longer. However, he continued to have success through other means — either by touring as a nostalgic act or releasing an array of “greatest hits” packages. He also ventured into gospel with releases such as the 2011 album The Love of God.
In 2012 he released an autobiography titled “Luck or Something Like It: A Memoir.” He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame the following year, and then recorded and released his 27th and final studio album You Can’t Make Old Friends. It carried the title track featuring a duet with Dolly Parton. It peaked at #57 on the Billboard US Country Airplay, becoming his first charting single in seven years.
He held his farewell tour “The Gambler’s Last Deal” in 2015. Although his initial intention was to retire from touring at its completion, he had plans on recording a new album. It culminated in 2017 with a concert in Nashville with an array of guest artists such as longtime collaborator Lionel Richie, The Flaming Lips, Idina Menzel, Reba McEntire, Kris Kristoffersson, Crystal Gale, Allison Krauss, and many others.
Kenny Rogers had five marriages and had five children from four of them. He kept a pet goat in his estate in Colbert, Georgia and according to him, it was his center that provides him a calming influence after his long and stressful tours.
Aside from being an internationally-known singer and performer, Rogers had other ventures, with considerable degrees of success..In 1982 he starred in the movie Six Pack which earned $20 million at the box office.
He was also into photography. He published two books on this subject, Kenny Rogers’ America (1986) and Your Friends and Mine (1987).
In 1991, he collaborated with former KFC CEO John Y. Brown Jr. to open a chicken-and-ribs restaurant chain called Kenny Rogers Roasters. After closing all of its stores in the US, the chain continues to operate mainly in Asia. He invested in a lot of other ventures, such as a Sprint car chasing manufacturing company, which he gave the name Gambler Chassis Co. (named after one of his albums).
He also appeared on several TV shows and endorsed several products and services, including a number of commercials for the Dole Food Company as well as for Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO).
Death and legacy
On March 20, 2020, Rogers died under hospice care at his home in Sandy Springs, Georgia. He was 81 years old. Due to the national COVID-19 outbreak, his family is planning a private service as of this writing, with a public memorial held at a later date.
With his global crossover hits such as “Lady” and “Through the Years,” Kenny Rogers dominated not only in the country music genre, but in the pop music scene as well. Although he is now gone, Kenny Rogers will remain alive in the hearts and minds of his fans who have been won over by his sleekly tailored hits that made him a country music icon.