Singer-songwriter-producer Kenny Rogers passed away on Friday, March 20, 2020 of natural causes, according to a family representative. He was 81 years old.
Though predominately a country singer, Rogers had pop crossover appeal, regularly topping the charts for both genres. He had over 120 hit singles and sold over 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the bestselling musicians of all time.
Born on August 21, 1938 in Houston, Texas, Rogers began recording in the 1950s, starting with amateur rock, psychedelic rock then moved on to pop and country. He recorded music with the Houston-based group, The Scholars, followed by some solo releases, including “That Crazy Feeling.” He was in a jazz group led by Bobby Doyle, then worked as a session musician, producer, and writer.
Rogers moved on to a folk ensemble that evolved into the group, The First Edition, where he got his first major hit, the psychedelic rock song “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” He took more of a leadership role in the band and with their hit “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” in ’69, the band transitioned to more of a country style.
In the mid-’70s, he began his solo career, starting with Love Lifted Me, which charted with the titular single and “While the Feeling’s Good.” His ’76 self-titled second album featured the single “Laura (What’s He Got That I Ain’t Got)” and the ’77 song “Lucille” was a major crossover hit, selling over five million copies and pushing the album to No. 1 on the Billboard Country Album Chart.
In ’78 he released “The Gambler,” which became a major crossover hit, winning him a Grammy and the album of the same name went multiplatinum. That song developed a persona for Rogers, which inspired a series of TV movies, such as Kenny Rogers as The Gambler.
Rogers paired with Dottie West on a series of albums in the late ’70s, including hit songs “Every Time Two Fools Collide,” What Are We Doin’ in Love,” and “All I Ever Need is You,” among others. He continued performing with other big names, including Kim Carnes on “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer” and Lynda Carter for “You and Me.” He and Lionel Richie wrote and produced Rogers’ No. 1 hit “Lady” and his album Share Your Love.
A collaboration with Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees resulted in his ’83 album, Eyes That See in the Dark, which featured the popular duet “Islands in the Stream” that he performed with Dolly Parton. The song went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was the last country song to do so until 2000. A year later, Rogers and Parton partnered on the holiday album Once Upon a Christmas and TV special Kenny & Dolly: A Christmas to Remember
During the second half of the ’80s, Rogers scored several more chart toppers, including “What About Me?,” “Twenty Years Ago,” and “Morning Desire,” He won a Grammy in ’88 for Best Country Collaboration with Ronnie Milsap on “Make No Mistake, She’s Mine.” In the early ’90s he hosted The Real West on A&E and released a 1930s-1940s inspired jazz album.
Rogers got another No. 1 in 2000 for “Buy Me a Rose” then released several greatest hits albums. In 2006 he released the album Water & Bridges, with the single “I Can’t Unlove You,” which was a crossover hit.
A TV special that celebrated his first 50 years in music aired in 2011, featuring performances by Parton and Richie, among others. Rogers was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013 and in ’18, his song “The Gambler” was chosen for preservation by the Library of Congress.
Parton, his collaborator and longtime friend, shared her reaction to Rogers’ passing on Twitter, saying “You never know how much you love somebody until they’re gone. I’ve had so many wonderful years and wonderful times with my friend Kenny, but above all the music and the success I loved him as a wonderful man and a true friend.”
You never know how much you love somebody until they’re gone. I’ve had so many wonderful years and wonderful times with my friend Kenny, but above all the music and the success I loved him as a wonderful man and a true friend. pic.twitter.com/hIQLIvt8pr— Dolly Parton (@DollyParton) March 21, 2020