Kenny Rogers (August 21, 1938)
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Born in Houston, Texas, Kenny Rogers is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, producer and actor who began performing in his teens. Known as a Country singer though his work crossed genre, his hits such as "Lucille
" appeared on both the Pop and Country charts. Several collaborations gained popularity, notably with Dolly Parton, Aretha Franklin and Alison Krauss. His influence has been widely noted in the music industry, for composing, arranging, performance and production.
Kenny's wide-ranging career began when he was in high school, singing and playing with a rockabilly ensemble. Their talent got some notice and in 1957 his group the Scholars appeared on American Bandstand.
After playing in a variety of bands, Rogers formed The First Edition (later known as Kenny Rogers and the First Edition) in 1967 in California. The band blended Country, Folk and the Psychedelia popular at the time. The band signed quickly with Reprise Records. Its first year found the single "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
" released. The cross-genre hit created instant widespread attention. At the time, Jimi Hendrix considered it his favorite song.
For most of the First Edition's tenure, a female singer contributed to the sound. Pre-famous Karen Carpenter unsuccessfully auditioned. Changes in personnel, changes in direction would ultimately cause the group to part, though they enjoyed a handful of chart hits and a short-lived TV show. In some circles, the First Edition get credit for modernizing Rockabilly into the Country Rock of the '70s.
On the heels of the First Edition's split, Kenny began a long solo career. He surrounded himself with top-notch musicians and crafted a radio-friendly style designed for mass appeal. Rogers' possessed an instantly recognizable voice yet he was unashamed to collaborate with other well-known singers. He struck paydirt with "Islands in the Stream
," a duet with Dolly Parton. Subsequently, he worked with a diverse range of singers: Dottie West, Sheena Easton and Don Henley (a discovery from the New Edition era). A 1984 record was entitled appropriately enough, Duets
Rogers grew up in a church-going family and always loved spiritual songs and hymns. Beginning in 1981, he released the first of many Christmas albums. Teaming up again with Ms. Parton, 1984's Once Upon a Christmas sold over five million copies.
Kenny's personal life was as varied as his music. He was married for the first of five times in 1958 and blamed constant work - promoting, traveling and touring - for the failure of his relationships. His fourth marriage was to Marianne Gordon, a regular on the television series Hee Haw. The show promoted down-home family values, and though Rogers was regarded as one of the "nice guys" in the industry, that subsequent divorce stirred waves of negative press for him.
"Growing older is not upsetting; being perceived as old is" said Rogers.
Around the time of his fifth marriage, to a woman nearly thirty years his junior, Rogers began undergoing cosmetic surgery to appear youthful. He expressed displeasure at the tightness of his eye tucks and his facial appearance. Rumors circulated that his famous beard was shifted back with the face pull and he shaved behind his ears.
The 1990's found Rogers collaborating again, this time with former Kentucky governor and KFC exec John Brown, Jr. Kenny Rogers Roasters Restaurants opened in the US in 1991, offering traditional American fare with woodfire-roasted chicken at the hub of the menu. The brand grew rapidly, even becoming a storyline in a Seinfeld episode. (Kramer couldn't get enough of the chicken.) But by the close of the decade, the franchise would go bankrupt, eventually owned by a Malaysian group. You can still find Kenny Rogers Roasters in parts of Asia.
Rogers continued to diversify his activities, often appearing at benefit concerts and charitable causes. In response to the hugely successful Feed the World campaign in Britain, Kenny took Harry Belafonte's idea and formed the coalition behind We Are The World in 1985. Recording of the Michael Jackson-Lionel Richie anthem originated in Rogers' music studio. The following year, Kenny was instrumental in launching the Hands Across America project, yet another anti-hunger initiative. Over six million people joined hands in a show of solidarity and part of the large national fund raiser.
Kenny Rogers is a well-respected photographer. He was invited to the White House in 1993 to create a portrait of then first lady Hillary Clinton.
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