Kenny Rogers Biography

Songwriter, Singer(1938–)
Award-winning singer/songwriter Kenny Rogers has enjoyed enormous success on both the country and pop charts with hits like "Lucille," "The Gambler," "Islands in the Stream," "Lady" and "Morning Desire."

Synopsis

Kenny Rogers was born on August 21, 1938, in Houston, Texas. After working with bands and as a solo artist, Rogers released The Gambler in 1978. The title track became a huge country and pop hit and gave Rogers his second Grammy Award. Rogers also recorded a series of hits with country legend Dottie West and scored a big No. 1 tune, "Islands in the Stream," with Dolly Parton. Continuing to remain a presence on the country charts while becoming an iconic artist, Rogers has also published several books, including a 2012 autobiography.

Background and Early Career

Singer and songwriter Kenneth Donald Rogers was born on August 21, 1938, in Houston, Texas. While his name was "Kenneth Donald" on his birth certificate, his family always called him "Kenneth Ray." Rogers grew up poor, living with his parents and six siblings in a federal housing project. By high school, he knew that he wanted to pursue a music career. He bought himself a guitar and started a group called the Scholars. The band had a rockabilly sound and scored a few local hits. Breaking out on his own, Rogers recorded the 1958 hit single "That Crazy Feeling" for the Carlton label. He even got to perform the song on Dick Clark's popular music program American Bandstand. Changing genres, Rogers then played bass with the Bobby Doyle Trio, a jazz group.

Moving on to a folk-pop style, Rogers was asked to join the New Christy Minstrels in 1966. He left after a year, along with a few other members of the group, to form the First Edition. Fusing folk, rock and country, the group quickly scored a hit with the psychedelic "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)." The band soon became known as Kenny Rogers and the First Edition and landed their own syndicated music show. They scored a few more hits, such as Mel Tillis' "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town."

Mainstream Success

In 1974, Rogers left the group to go solo again and decided to focus his energy on country music. "Love Lifted Me" became his first solo top 20 country hit in 1975. Two years later, Rogers reached the top of the country charts with the mournful ballad "Lucille," about a man being left by his wife. The song also did well on the pop charts, making it into the top 5 and bringing Rogers his first Grammy—specifically for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male.

Quickly following up this success, Rogers released The Gambler in 1978. The title track was again a huge country and pop hit and gave Rogers his second Grammy. He also showed his tender side with another popular ballad, "She Believes in Me." Kenny (1979) featured such hits as "Coward of the County" and "You Decorated My Life." Around this time, he wrote the advice book Making It With Music: Kenny Rogers' Guide to the Music Business (1978).

Duets With Dottie and Dolly

In addition to his solo work, Rogers recorded a series of hits with country legend Dottie West. The two reached the top of the country charts with "Every Time Two Fools Collide" (1978), "All I Ever Need Is You" (1979) and "What Are We Doin' in Love" (1981). Also in 1981, Rogers held the No. 1 spot on the pop charts for six weeks with his version of Lionel Richie's "Lady."

By this time, Rogers was a true crossover artist, enjoying enormous success on both the country and pop charts and collaborating with such pop stars as Kim Carnes and Sheena Easton. Turning to acting, Rogers starred in television movies inspired by his songs, like 1980's The Gambler, which spawned several sequels, and 1981's Coward of the County. On the big screen, he played a race car driver in the comedy Six Pack (1982).

In 1983, Rogers scored one of the biggest hits of his career: a duet with Dolly Parton called "Islands in the Stream." Written by the Bee Gees, the tune went to the top of both the country and pop charts. Rogers and Parton won the Academy of Country Music Award for Single of the Year for their efforts. After this, Rogers continued to thrive as a country music performer, but his ability to crossover to pop music success started to wane. Among the hits from this period is his duet with Ronnie Milsap, "Make No Mistake, She's Mine," which won the 1988 Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance, Duet.

Branching Out

In addition to music, Rogers also demonstrated a passion for photography. Images that he took while traveling around the country were published in the 1986 collection Kenny Roger's America. "Music is what I am, but photography would probably be second," he later explained to People magazine. The following year, Rogers published another collection called Your Friends and Mine.

Continuing to act, Rogers appeared in such TV movies as Christmas in America (1990) and MacShayne: Winner Takes All (1994). Rogers began exploring other business opportunities as well. In 1991, he started his own restaurant franchise called Kenny Rogers Roasters. He later sold the venture to Nathan's Famous, Inc. in 1998.

That same year, Rogers created his own record label, Dreamcatcher Entertainment. He also starred in his own off-Broadway Christmas show The Toy Shoppe around that time. Releasing his next album, She Rides Wild Horses, in 1999, Rogers enjoyed a return to the charts with the hit "The Greatest," which told the story of a boy's love of baseball. He scored another hit with "Buy Me a Rose" off the same album.

Personal Life

Rogers went through a dramatic change in his personal life in 2004. He and his fifth wife, Wanda, welcomed twin boys Jordan and Justin in July—just a month before his 66th birthday. "They say that twins at my age will either make you or break you. Right now I'm leaning towards break. I would kill for the energy they've got," Rogers told People magazine. He has three older children from his previous marriages. That same year, Rogers published his children's book, Christmas in Canaan, which was later turned into a TV movie.

Rogers also made headlines for undergoing plastic surgery. Longtime fans were surprised by his appearance on American Idol in 2006. On the show to promote his latest album, Water & Bridges, Rogers showed off his efforts to make his face more youthful. He wasn't completely happy with the results, however, complaining about how his eyes turned out.

In 2009, he celebrated his long career with Kenny Rogers: The First 50 Years, a musical retrospective. Rogers has made dozens of albums and sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. 

In 2012, Rogers published his autobiography Luck or Something Like It. He received recognition for his substantial musical contributions in 2013 when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. At the CMA Awards held that November, he also received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award. Some of country's top performers turned out to honor Rogers, including Jennifer Nettles and Darius Rucker. That same year Rogers released the album You Can't Make Old Friends, followed in 2015 by the holiday collection Once Again It's Christmas. Starting in December and going into 2016, the iconic singer/songwriter embarked on what he announced as his farewell tour.

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