In Memoriam: Kenny Rogers (1938-2020)

Country Music Hall of Fame legend Kenny Rogers has passed away at the age of 81.

Variety reports:

Vocalist Kenny Rogers, who dominated the pop and country charts in the 1970s and 1980s with a string of sleekly tailored hits and won three Grammys, has died. He was 81. Rogers “passed away peacefully at home from natural causes under the care of hospice and surrounded by his family,” a representative for the singer said in a statement. Due to the  national COVID-19 emergency, the family is planning a small private service at this time with a public memorial planned for a later date.

Rogers was one of the progenitors of country-pop crossover at the superstar level. “I came into country music not trying to change country music but trying to survive,” he said in a 2016 interview with CMT.com. “And so I did songs that were not country but were more pop. Nowadays they’re not doing country songs at all. What they’re doing is creating their own genre of country music. But I told somebody the other day, country music is what country people will buy. If the country audience doesn’t buy it, they’ll kick it out. And if they do, then it becomes country music. It’s just era of country music we’re in.”

When Country Universe counted down the 100 Greatest Men of Country Music, Kenny Rogers placed at #17:

The biggest crossover star that country music has ever known, Kenny Rogers was among the biggest stars of any genre in the seventies and eighties, becoming a worldwide icon and one of the genre’s finest ambassadors…

By the end of the seventies, Rogers was a full-blown superstar, selling millions of records on the strength of international crossover hits like “The Gambler” and “Coward of the County.”  In 1980, his greatest hits collection topped the pop albums chart and sold more than 12 million copies, shattering all previous records for Nashville-based acts.   His Lionel Richie-penned hit “Lady” spent a stunning six weeks atop the pop singles chart.   It was an appropriate title for a Rogers hit, who managed to have country and pop hits with ladies as diverse as Dottie West, Dolly Parton, Sheena Easton, and Kim Carnes.  His duet with Parton on “Islands in the Stream” topped both the country and pop charts and sold more than two million copies in the United States alone.

As pop tastes changed, Rogers remained a force on the country charts, but further diversified his portfolio with a string of popular television movies based on his hit, “The Gambler.”  He further collaborated with Parton on a tour and a Christmas album, that latter of which was supported by a Holiday-themed television movie.

In the nineties, he was one of many stars who were pushed off of the radio for younger acts, but refused to complain about the ageism at work.   He noted, “Those who can compete, compete.  Those who can’t, b***h.”   Proving his own case in 1999, he had a comeback album with She Rides Wild Horses, scoring his first #1 country hit in over a decade with “Buy Me a Rose”, which powered that set to platinum sales.

I’m sure I speak for many of us in the Country Universe community when I say that Kenny Rogers was a constant presence growing up, one of those icons that transcended format and everybody knew by name.  He will be missed.

 

10 Comments

  1. I wrote this on my Facebook this morning:

    Besides Dolly Parton in A Smoky Mountain Christmas, Kenny Rogers was one of the first country legends that I heard and instantly liked. The first song that I remember hearing of his was on one of the first country countdowns that I actively remember listening to and they played a classic hit, which was “Coward of the County.”At 12-years-old, I didn’t know just how dark of a song it was, but I liked the general message that I took from it and I loved the sing-along melody and Rogers’ gravelly voice. After that, before I could buy music of my own, I looked forward to the times that I would hear other Kenny Rogers songs on the radio and I always instantly loved the melodies. “The Gambler, “Through The Years”, “Lucille, “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town”, “Love Will Turn you Around, “Buried Treasure”, “The Vows Go Unbroken”, “Islands in the Stream (with Dolly Parton), “Don’t Fall in Love with A Dreamer” (with Kim Carnes) were just the beginning of the songs that I ended hearing and loving! They all had great melodies and, in many cases, those great melodies had more serious lyrics than what was on the surface (“The Gambler”, “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town”, “Lucille”, “Coward of the County, Etc.).

    He wrote a song called “Sweet Music Man” (best version sung by Reba McEntire!), which I suspect described his lifestyle all too well, but he aptly described his music when he wrote, “Oh, and nobody sings a love song quite like you do./ Oh, and nobody else can make me sing along/And nobody else can make me feel things are right when they’re wrong with a song.”

    RIP Kenny Rogers. Thank you for having a knack for singing those great melodies that felt right even when what happened in some of those songs were wrong.

  2. Here’s my comment again after proofreading!:

    Besides Dolly Parton in A Smoky Mountain Christmas, Kenny Rogers was one of the first country legends that I heard and instantly liked. The first song that I remember hearing of his was on one of the first country countdowns that I actively remember listening to and they played a classic hit, which was “Coward of the County.”At 12-years-old, I didn’t know just how dark of a song it was, but I liked the general message that I took from it and I loved the sing-along melody and Rogers’ gravelly voice. After that, before I could buy music of my own, I looked forward to the times that I would hear other Kenny Rogers songs on the radio and I always instantly loved the melodies. “The Gambler, “Through The Years”, “Lucille, “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town”, “Love Will Turn you Around, “Buried Treasure”, “The Vows Go Unbroken”, “Islands in the Stream (with Dolly Parton), “Don’t Fall in Love with A Dreamer” (with Kim Carnes) were just the beginning of the songs that I ended up hearing and loving! They all had great melodies and, in many cases, those great melodies had more serious lyrics than what was on the surface (“The Gambler”, “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town”, “Lucille”, “Coward of the County, Etc.).

    He wrote a song called “Sweet Music Man” (best version sung by Reba McEntire!), which I suspect described his lifestyle all too well, but he aptly described his music when he wrote, “Oh, and nobody sings a love song quite like you do./ Oh, and nobody else can make me sing along/And nobody else can make me feel that things are right when I know they’re wrong.”

    RIP Kenny Rogers. Thank you for sharing your talent for singing those great melodies that felt right even when what happened in some of those songs were wrong.

  3. thank you KJC & Leeann. RIP KR. First song of his I recall hearing was “Just Dropped In” by KR & the First Edition. As a former little leaguer I always liked “The Greatest”, a song penned by Don Schlitz. Also liked his duet with Sheena Easton, “We’ve Got Tonight” and most of the songs already mentioned..

  4. With everything going on in the world right now, I’m downright embarrassed to admit that I’ve cried several times today over the death of Kenny Rogers. His music was the soundtrack for some important years in my life.

    I first heard him in 1977 when I was in 6th grade with Lucille. All through junior high, high school, and college, there wasn’t a time when there wasn’t a Kenny Rogers hit song being played on the radio. He had so many hits and very, very few misses.

    That voice was one of a kind. And he sang every song with everything he had. And the duets with Dottie, Kim Carnes, Sheena Easton, Anne Murray, and of course Dolly made him even better.

    Lucille, Daytime Friends, Sweet Music Man, Love Or Something Like It, Every Time Two Fools Collide, The Gambler, She Believes In Me, You Decorated My Life, Coward Of The County, Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer, Love The World Away, Lady, What Are We Doin’ In Love, I Don’t Need You, Blaze Of Glory, Through The Years, Love Will Turn You Around, A Love Song, We’ve Got Tonight, All Of My Life, Islands In The Stream, Buried Treasure, What About Me, Crazy, Morning Desire, Twenty Years Ago, Make No Mistake She’s Mine, I Prefer The Moonlight, The Factory, Buy Me A Rose – and that’s not all his hits, if you can believe it. Just incredible.

    He was, and still is, my favorite male country singer.

  5. I grew up listening to Kenny Rogers music, I had his greatest hits on tape and wore it out, I now have it on CD. Loved his music & like others before him, Merle, George, Conway, Tammy, Dottie etc, his music will live on. RIP.

  6. you once said of Chatahoochie ‘…looked back on the innocence of adolescence with bemusement and fondness for that transitional period of life’ and this bland in memoriam is all we get for Kenny Rogers?

  7. Harold,
    Just speaking personally, the death of Kenny Rogers hit me hard. The purpose of this post was to create a space for readers to gather and talk about the loss. With the 100 Greatest Men post already written and a better obituary than I could write already available from Variety, it seemed best to link to those for people interested in learning more about the man’s life and work.

    I did, however, compile the video playlist of 22 of his essential hits, so I hope you get the opportunity to listen to and enjoy that.

    Best,
    Kevin

  8. @caj — That is indeed an impressive list of hits (and mega-hits) you cited, yet it excludes three of my Kenny Rogers favorites: “Reuben James,” Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love to Town),” and “Share Your Love with Me” (with Gladys Knight & The Pips singing background).

  9. Still can’t believe Kenny is gone. :( Even though his heyday happened just right before my time, his music has still been a big part of my life since my parents are fans of his music. Most of his classic hits were still played often on the radio during the 90’s and early 00’s, as well. I personally consider much of his late 70’s and 80’s output as an example of how pop country can be done right and with class.

    My all time favorite from him though, is his big 2000 comeback hit, “Buy Me A Rose.” It still seems like only yesterday that I was marveling how great it was to suddenly have Kenny back on the radio having success after he’d been absent from radio for quite a while (I enjoyed the previously released “The Greatest,” as well). Also, given that he was already in his 60’s then, I still consider it to be one of the most impressive comebacks in the genre. I really enjoy his 2001 album, There You Go Again, as well which continued his successful comeback for a little longer. Around that same time, I had been discovering and enjoying a lot of early-mid 80’s country, including some of Kenny’s music from that time (“Love Will Turn You Around” and “Crazy” come to mind, especially). Again, those times seem like only yesterday to me, which makes this more heartbreaking.

    He will definitely be missed by many!

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