A Rockapaedia Obituary
Kenny Rodgers died aged eighty-one under hospice care on 20th March 2020 in Sandy Springs, Georgia, U.S.A.. He was survived by his fifth wife, Wanda and their two progeny.
Kenny Rodgers was born on 21st August, 1938, in Houston, Texas, U.S.A. the fourth of eight children. Kenny was of both Irish and Native American ancestry.
At his estate in Colbert, Georgia, Kenny kept a pet goat named Smitty, having originally acquired the animal from a friend in 2008. According to Kenny, the goat has provided a calming influence after his long and stressful touring schedules.
Kenny Rodgers had been married five times and had five children. He married Janice in 1958 but they divorced in April 1960 after having one child together. Next, Kenny married Jean in October 1960 then divorced her in 1963. He married Margo in October 1964 and divorced her in 1976 after having one child together. Kenny next married Marianne in October, 1977 then divorced her in 1993 after one child together. He next married Wanda in June 1997 and they had two children.
In a recording career dating back to the 1950s, Kenny Rodgers 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, Kenny Rodgers joined a jazz group called The Bobby Doyle Three, who got a lot of work in clubs thanks to a reasonable fan following. The group recorded for Columbia Records but they disbanded in 1965. Kenny Rodgers 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.
After feeling that the Minstrels were not offering the success they wanted, Kenny Rodgers and fellow members Mike Settle, Terry Williams, and Thelma Camacho left the group and then formed The First Edition in 1967, later to be renamed "Kenny Kenny Rodgers and The First Edition" and 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".
When the First Edition broke up in 1976, Kenny Rodgers launched his solo career and soon developed a more middle-of-the-road sound that sold to both pop and country audiences. He has charted more than sixty top 40 hit singles in the U.S.A. including two number ones; "Lady" and "Islands in the Stream". His music has also been featured in top-selling movie soundtracks, including 'Convoy', 'Urban Cowboy', and 'The Big Lebowski'.
After leaving his backing band in 1976, after almost a decade with the group, Kenny Rodgers signed a solo deal with United Artists. Producer Larry Butler and Kenny Rodgers began a partnership that lasted four years. Kenny's first album for his new label was called 'Love Lifted Me'. The album charted and two singles, "Love Lifted Me" and "While the Feeling's Good", were minor hits. The song "Runaway Girl" was featured in the motion picture 'Trackdown'. Later in 1976, Kenny Rodgers issued his second album, the self-titled 'Kenny Rodgers', whose first single, "Laura (What's He Got That I Ain't Got)", was another solo hit.
The single "Lucille" in 1977 was a major hit, reaching number one on the pop charts in twelve countries, selling over five million copies, and firmly establishing Kenny Rodgers' post-First Edition career. On the strength of "Lucille", the album 'Kenny Rodgers' reached number one in the Billboard Country Album Chart. More success followed, including the multi-platinum selling album 'The Gambler' and another international Number one single, "Coward of the County", taken from the equally successful album, 'Kenny'. In 1980, the Rodgers/Butler partnership came to an end, though they would occasionally reunite.
In the late 1970s, Kenny Rodgers teamed up with close friend and Country Music legend Dottie West for a series of albums and duets. Their hits together including "Every Time Two Fools Collide", "Anyone Who Isn't Me Tonight", "What Are We Doin' in Love", "All I Ever Need Is You" and "Till I Can Make It On My Own" all became Country music standards. In a 1978 press release for their album "Every Time Two Fools Collide", Kenny Rodgers credited Dottie West with further establishing and cementing his career with Country Music audiences. In the same release, Dottie West credited Kenny with taking her career to new audiences. Kenny was with Dottie only hours before she died at age fifty-eight after sustaining injuries in a 1991 car accident. In 1995 Kenny starred as himself, alongside actress Michele Lee as Dottie, in the CBS biographical movie 'Big Dreams and Broken Hearts: The Dottie West Story'.
In 1980, a selection Kenny recorded as a duet with Kim Carnes, "Don't Fall In Love With A Dreamer", became a major hit. Earlier that year, he sang a duet of "You and Me" with Lynda Carter in her television music special Lynda Carter Special. Later in 1980 came Kenny's partnership with Lionel Richie who wrote and produced Kenny's number 1 hit "Lady". Lionel Richie went on to produce Kenny Rodgers's 1981 album 'Share Your Love', a chart topper and commercial favorite featuring hits such as "I Don't Need You", "Through the Years", and "Share Your Love with Me". Kenny's first Christmas album was also released that same year. In 1982, Kenny Rodgers released the album 'Love Will Turn You Around'. The album's title track reached number thirteen on the Billboard Hit 100 and topped the country and AC charts. It was the theme song of Kenny Rodgers' 1982 film 'Six Pack'. Shortly afterwards, he started working with producer David Foster in 1983 recording the smash Top 10 hit Bob Seger cover "We've Got Tonight", a duet with Sheena Easton which reached the Top 30 on the British charts.
In 1981, Kenny Rodgers bought the old ABC Dunhill building and built one of the most popular and state-of-the-art recording studios in Los Angeles. The song "We Are The World" was recorded there.
Kenny Rodgers went on to work with Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees who produced his 1983 hit album 'Eyes That See in the Dark', featuring the title track and yet another number 1 hit "Islands in the Stream", a duet with Dolly Parton. Barry Gibb, along with his brothers, Robin and Maurice, originally wrote the song for Marvin Gaye in an R&B style, only later to change it for the Kenny Rodgers album. The partnership with Barry Gibb only lasted one album, which was not surprising considering that Kenny Rodgers' original intention was to work with him on only one song but Barry insisted on doing the entire album together.
"Islands in the Stream", Kenny Rodgers' duet with Dolly Parton, was the first single to be released from 'Eyes That See in the Dark' in the United States, and it quickly went to number one in the Billboard Hot 100, as well as topping Billboard's country and adult contemporary singles charts; it was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America for shipping two million copies in the United States. Kenny Rodgers would reunite with Parton in 1984 for a holiday album, "Once Upon a Christmas" and TV special "Kenny & Dolly: A Christmas to Remember" (which resulted in a popular video of "Christmas Without You"), as well as a 1985 duet "Real Love", which also topped the American country singles chart. The two would continue to collaborate on occasional projects through subsequent years, including a 2013 duet single "You Can't Make Old Friends".
In 1988, Kenny Rodgers won a Grammy Award for "Best Country Collaboration with Vocals" with Ronnie Milsap — "Make No Mistake, She's Mine". In the 1990s, Kenny continued to chart with singles such as "The Factory" and "Crazy In Love", another selection that Kim Carnes provided him with, "If You Want To Find Love", and "The Greatest". His second Christmas album, titled 'Christmas in America', was released in 1989 for Reprise Records.
From 1992–95, Kenny Rodgers co-owned and headlined Branson, Missouri's 4,000 seat Grand Palace Theatre. In 1994, Kenny Rodgers released his "dream" album titled 'Timepiece' on Atlantic Records. It consisted of 1930s/1940s jazz standards, the type of music he had performed in his early days with The Bobby Doyle Three in Houston.
In 1996, Kenny Rodgers released an album 'Vote For Love' where the public requested their favorite love songs and Kenny Rodgers performed the songs. The album, sold exclusively by QVC, was a huge success and was later issued in stores under a variety of different titles. It reached number one in the UK country charts under the title 'Love Songs' and also crossed over into the mainstream charts.
In 1999, Kenny Rodgers scored with the single "The Greatest", a song about life from a child's point of view. The song reached the top 40 of Billboard's Country singles chart and was a Country Music Television Number One video. It was on Kenny Rodgers' album 'She Rides Wild Horses' the following year. In 1999, Kenny Rodgers also produced a song, "We've Got It All", specifically for the series finale of the ABC show 'Home Improvement'.
In the 21st century, Kenny Rodgers was back at number one for the first time in more than a decade with the 2000 single "Buy Me a Rose".
Although Kenny Rodgers did not record new albums for several years, he continued to have success in many countries with more greatest hits packages. In 2004 42 Ultimate Hits, which was the first hits collection to span his days with the First Edition to the present, reached Number six on the American country charts and went gold. It also featured two new songs, "My World Is Over" with Whitney Duncan and "We Are the Same". "My World Is Over" was released as a single and was a minor hit. In 2005 'The Very Best of Kenny Kenny Rodgers', a double album, sold well in Europe. It was the first new solo Kenny Rodgers hits album to reach the United Kingdom for over a decade, despite many compilations there that were not true hits packages.
Kenny Rodgers also signed with Capitol Records and had more success with the TV advertised release '21 Number Ones' in January 2006.
Capitol followed '21 Number Ones' with Kenny Rodgers' new studio album, 'Water & Bridges', in March 2006 on the Capitol Nashville Records label. The first single from the album was "I Can't Unlove You", which peaked at number 17 on the country charts, after spending over 6 months on the hit list, more than 50 years after he formed his first group and 38 years after his first major hit as leader of The First Edition. "I Can't Unlove You" was followed up with the second single from the album, "The Last Ten Years (Superman)", in September 2006. The third single, "Calling Me", which features Don Henley, became popular in early 2007, and was nominated for a Grammy Award at the 2007 Grammy Awards. Also in 2007, the 1977 Kenny Rodgers album was re-issued as a double CD, also featuring the 1979 Kenny album and this once again put Kenny Rodgers' name into the sales charts worldwide. The following year, another compilation album (A Love Song Collection) also charted. Kenny Rodgers has recorded 65 albums and sold over 165 million records.
In August 2008, Kenny Rodgers released '50 Years' exclusively at Cracker Barrel stores. The album includes some of Kenny's greatest hits, plus 3 new songs. The release is designed to celebrate Kenny Rodgers' 50th year in the music business. In 2007 the England national rugby union team adopted Kenny Rodgers song "The Gambler" as their unofficial 2007 Rugby World Cup anthem, after hearing it playing in the team hotel. Before the semi-final against France and the final against South Africa, Kenny Rodgers sent video messages of support to the team in light of them choosing his song. He offered to come to England and party with the team if they won the World Cup.
In 2008 Kenny Rodgers toured with his Christmas Show. He split the show up, making the first half his "best of" and the second half his Christmas songs. In 2009 he toured the United Kingdom and embarked on his 50th Anniversary Tour which went around the United States, Britain and Ireland.
In April, 2010, a TV special was taped, 'Kenny Rodgers: The First 50 Years'. Dolly Parton and Lionel Richie were among those set to perform with Kenny Rodgers during a show celebrating his contribution to country, blues and pop music, It took place at the MGM Grand in Foxwoods. This special debuted on March 8, 2011 on Great American Country. In June, 2012, Kenny Rodgers appeared on stage with the musical group Phish to perform his hit song "The Gambler" at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Also in 2012, Kenny Rodgers re-recorded the hit song "Lady", a duet with its songwriter Lionel Richie, on Lionel Richie's album Tuskegee. The pair also performed the song live at the 2012 ACM concert, "Lionel Richie & Friends".
During April, 2013, the CMA announced that Kenny Rodgers would be a 2013 inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame, along with Cowboy Jack Clement and Bobby Bare. In June 2013 he performed at the United Kingdom's Glastonbury Festival in the Sunday afternoon 'Legends' slot.
In 2013, Kenny Rodgers recorded a new album with the name 'You Can't Make Old Friends'. This album included the title track, a new duet with Dolly Parton, which was his first single released in six years. In 2015, Kenny Rodgers announced his farewell tour, titled 'The Gambler's Last Deal'. He stated his intention to retire from touring at its completion, although he is rumoured to be considering the possibility of recording another studio album. In announcing the tour, Kenny Rodgers indicated at the time that his final tour appearance would be on NBC's Today show. Concert dates were scheduled through 2018 and included visits to the United States, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, England, The Netherlands and Switzerland. On 5th April 2018, it was announced that Kenny Rodgers cancelled his remaining tour as advised by doctors due to a series of health challenges.
Kenny Rodgers' final concert in Nashville took place on 25th October, 2017 at the Bridgestone Arena where he was joined by an array of guest artists including Linda Davis, Elle King, Little Big Town, Lionel Richie, Billy Currington, Lee Greenwood, The Flaming Lips, The Oak Ridge Boys, Justin Moore, Travis Tritt, The Judds, Kris Kristofferson, Alison Krauss, Chris Stapleton, Lady Antebellum, Idina Menzel, Crystal Gayle, Reba McEntire and Jamey Johnson. The concert also included a special appearance by long-time friend Dolly Parton, who performed with Kenny "You Can't Make Old Friends" and "Islands in the Stream".
Song: The Gambler by Kenny Rogers