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Kenny Rogers: Genius Hit-maker Since the ’60s

  • Arden is a Senior Country Music Journalist for Country Thang Daily, specializing in classic hits and contemporary chart-toppers.
  • Prior to joining Country Thang Daily, Arden wrote for Billboard and People magazine, covering country music legends and emerging artists.
  • Arden holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Tennessee, with a minor in Music Studies.

Blessed with a warm and soothing voice, Kenny Rogers‘ destiny is to be a hit-maker in the history of music.

Early life

Kenneth Donald Rogers was born in Houston on August 21, 1938. Despite his registered name “Kenneth Donald”, he grew up with his family calling him “Kenneth Ray.”

Kenny Rogers was raised up in a poor family. Together with his six siblings, his family lived and grew up in a federal housing project. As he reached high school, Rogers’s love for music drove him to pursue a music career. As a result, he bought his first guitar and started his own band. “The Scholars” was the name that they chose and they produced several local hits.

Later on, Rogers decided to break out on his own. When he was 19, Rogers recorded his single “That Crazy Feeling” with the Carlton Records. The song grew to become a hit in 1958. Rogers was given the chance to perform on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.” American Bandstand was a famous musical program. Rogers decided to change genres. He joined the “Bobby Doyle” a trio jazz group as a bassist.

Rogers decided to explore the genre of folk-pop style. He was asked to join the New Christy Minstrels. After joining the group in 1966, Rogers left the group after a year.

Together with former group members of The New Christy Minstrels, Rogers formed The First Edition. They re-defined music through producing a fusion of folk, rock and country sound. The group immediately recorded a mind-blowing song “Just Dropped in (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” The band, later on, became popular as the “Kenny Rogers and the First Edition” that syndicated their own music show. Following their prior success, they went on to record a few more hits, such as “Mel Tillis,” “Ruby,” and “Don’t Take Your Love To Town.”

Further Success

With another shift in genre, Rogers left the group to focus on country music. Rogers went on to do solo again with this new venture in his career. In 1975, Rogers made an appearance to the Top 20 of the country music charts with his single “Love Lifted Me.

But it took two years until Rogers was able to crack into the top of the country charts. It was with his solo “Lucille.” This was a sorrowful ballad that talks about a man left by his wife. “Lucille” also made it to the top 5 of the pop charts. With all the accolades of his single, Rogers gained his first Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male.

Not for long, Rogers carried his success in the following years. In 1978, he released “The Gambler.” The song gained a lot of recognition in both the Country and pop charts and was awarded his second Grammy.

Rogers also released another ballad “She Believes in Me” in 1979.  In the same year, Rogers also recorded several hits such as, “Coward of the Country” and “You Decorated My Life.”  Rogers was also able to release a book entitled “Making It With Music: Kenny Rogers’ Guide to the Music Business.”

Collaborations with Dottie and Dolly

Kenny Rogers also gained success in collaborating with other stars in the music industry. He made recordings with country star Dottie West and the two made it to the top of the Country charts. They both produced hits like, “Every Time Two Fools Collide,” “All I Ever Need is You” and “What Are We Doin’ in Love.”

By this time, Rogers has become one of the most successful crossover artists. Rogers attained a vast success in both the country and pop charts. Rogers made collaborations with pop stars like Kim Carnes and Sheena Easton.

Rogers was also featured in television movies. He got featured in “The Gambler,” a movie that was based on his song, “Coward of the Country” and played the role of a race car driver in the comedy film “Six Pack.”

With the success that Rogers had attained in both the pop and country charts, the year 1983 had something significant to offer as well. His duet with Dolly Parton gave Rogers his biggest hit. They recorded a song entitled “Islands in The Stream” written by the Bee Gees. The song blasted its way to the top of both the pop and the country charts. This gave both Rogers and Parton the Academy Award of Country Music for a Single of the Year.

Rogers continued his success as a country singer. Unfortunately, his ability to crossover to pop music success began to diminish. The biggest hit that Rogers made during this time was a duet with Ronnie Milsap. “Make No Mistake, She’s Mine” won the 1988 Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance, Duet.

Kenny Rogers’ Expansion

Rogers didn’t just have a passion for singing and songwriting. He also demonstrated his love for photography. Rogers’ images that were taken from around the country were later on published in 1986 that was entitled “Kenny Rogers’ America.” This was followed up with another collection the following year with the title “Your Friends and Mine.”

Following his first stint as an actor, Rogers continued to act and appeared in several television shows like, “Christmas in America” and “MacShayne: Winner Takes All. ”

In 1991, Rogers ventured into another kind of business. He launched his very own franchise restaurant called “Kenny Rogers.” Eventually, Rogers sold the project to Nathan’s Famous, Inc. in 1998.

That same year, Rogers launched his own record label called “Dreamcatcher Entertainment.” Around the same period of time, he also started his own Broadway Christmas show, The Toy Shoppe.

Rogers also released another album in 1999. ”She Rides Wild Horses” gave Rogers the comeback to the charts that he needed. The album produced two hits “The Greatest” and “Buy Me a Rose.

The 2000s

Kenny Rogers, together with his fifth wife, Wanda, welcomed two boys in 2004. Rogers was 66 years old when he said in an interview with the People Magazine,

“They say that twins at my age will either make you or break you. Right now I’m leaning towards break”

Rogers celebrated his 50th year in the music industry. He celebrated it through a musical retrospective entitled, Kenny Rogers: The First 50 Years.” It was a celebration that commemorated the dozens of albums that Rogers produced that sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.

For all the hits and contributions that he has brought to the music industry, Kenny Rogers was then inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013. He was also awarded the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award during the CMA Awards.

Rogers continued to release albums in 2013 and 2015.  It was during 2016 when Rogers embarked on his farewell tour. Kenny Rogers made a remark during his final tour saying,

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to say farewell to the fans over the course of the past two years on “The Gambler’s Last Deal Tour.”  I could never properly thank them for the encouragement and support they’ve given me throughout my career and the happiness that I’ve experienced as a result.”


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