Kenny Rogers: Biography

Kenny Rogers: Biography

GRAMMY® Award-winning superstar Kenny Rogers enjoyed exceptional success during his storied career of over six decades. With his staying power and universal appeal on full display, he endeared music lovers around the globe with his amazing songs, heartfelt performances, distinctive voice, gift for storytelling, relatability, showmanship, philanthropy and humility. 

Rogers sold over 120 million albums worldwide, making him one of the best-selling male artists of all-time according to the RIAA, with one Diamond album, 20 Platinum albums and 11 Gold. He recorded 24 No. 1 hits (including classics like "The Gambler," "Lady," "Islands In The Stream," “Lucille," "She Believes In Me," and "Through The Years”), 12 No. 1 albums and 25 Top 10 country albums. Miraculously, he charted a song within each of the last seven decades. His music has always crossed boundaries, with singles and albums finding frequent success on the Country, Top 40, and Adult Contemporary charts, and in a few instances, on the R&B and Christian charts. The first country artist to consistently sell out arenas, Rogers also achieved pop superstardom and reached the pinnacle of worldwide popularity and celebrity few artists have ever attained, performing live for millions of fans. Rogers’ 28 Billboard Adult Contemporary Top 10's rank fifth-best all-time, and he sent the most country No. 1’s to the top spot on AC (five of his eight AC No. 1’s were also country No. 1’s).

Rogers has won awards from every organization imaginable. In the fall of 2013, Rogers was bestowed with his biggest honor, being inducted as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. His numerous accolades include 21 American Music Awards, 11 People’s Choice Awards, 10 Academy of Country Music Awards (including the Career Achievement Award, Entertainer of the Year, multiple Male Vocalist of the Year Awards and the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award), six Country Music Association Awards (including the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award and Male Vocalist of the Year), three GRAMMY® Awards, two CMT Music Awards and the CMT Artist of a Lifetime Award in 2015. He received the Career Achievement Award at the TNN Music Awards, the Lifetime Achievement Award from IEBA (International Entertainment Buyers Association), an IEBA Hall of Fame Induction and the SESAC Legacy Award, among many others. He was also the recipient of the Horatio Alger Award, given to those who have distinguished themselves despite humble beginnings, an honor that was very special to him. Rogers was voted the "Favorite Singer of All Time" in a 1986 joint poll by readers of both USA Today and People.

Born in Houston, Texas, Rogers formed his first band while in high school in 1956—a doo-wop group called the Scholars—and never quit making music. He charted on Cash Box as a solo artist in the late 1950s with the song "That Crazy Feeling" as Kenneth Rogers, which earned him a performance on "American Bandstand." After playing stand-up bass and singing for many years with the jazz group the Bobby Doyle Three (the group released an album on Columbia Records), Rogers joined folk favorite The New Christy Minstrels. In 1967, Rogers formed the First Edition. As the lead singer of the group, Rogers sang on the band's biggest hits, such as "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" and "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town." The group, who hosted their own syndicated television series, “Rollin'," stayed together through 1975.

In 1976, Rogers signed a deal in Nashville with United Artists. With the help of producer Larry Butler, Rogers released "Lucille" in early 1977, his first No. 1 hit. The singer would tally many classic hits through the decade, including "Sweet Music Man," "Every Time Two Fools Collide" (recorded with the late Dottie West), "Love Or Something Like It," "The Gambler," and "She Believes In Me." Rogers was named Male Vocalist of the Year by both the CMA and the ACM, being also recognized as Entertainer of the Year by the latter in 1979.

In 1980, Rogers made musical history with his cross-over success of "Lady." The Lionel Richie composition and production netted the Rogers a No. 1 hit in the Country, Pop, AC, and R&B fields. The album from which the song was pulled, Kenny RogersGreatest Hits, was certified Diamond for sales of over 10 million units. In the 1980s, Rogers stayed on top of the charts with No. 1 hits like "I Don't Need You," "Through The Years," "We've Got Tonight" (with Sheena Easton), "Islands In The Stream" (with Dolly Parton), “Crazy" and "Morning Desire." In 1985, Rogers sang on the GRAMMY®-winning USA For Africa charity single, "We Are The World," joined by an unprecedented number of music legends. He also established a successful career as an actor – playing the lead role of Brady Hawkes in the record-breaking, five-movie The Gambler TV series, starring in the 1982 motion picture "Six Pack" and more – and as a photographer, with several published books of photos to his credit, including "This Is My Country." 

In the 1990s, Rogers continued to perform in the far corners of the world and impacted the charts with hits like “If You Want To Find Love” and “The Greatest” (also a No. 1 video). In 2000, he returned to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Country chart for the first time since 1987 with the love song "Buy Me A Rose" (with Alison Krauss and Billy Dean). The feat was made all the more impressive by the fact it was released on Rogers’ own independent label, Dreamcatcher Records. At the time Rogers was 61 years old and became the oldest artist in chart history to have a No. 1 solo song. Over the course of the next 10 years, Rogers charted hits like "I Can't Unlove You” and "The Last Ten Years (Superman)" from a critically acclaimed record, Water & Bridges, which also spawned a GRAMMY® nomination with Don Henley for their collaboration, “Calling Me."

In 2011, Rogers released his only Gospel record, The Love Of God, on his own label. The project, a bucket-list accomplishment that Rogers was very proud of (he learned to sing harmonies in church as a child), was available exclusively at Cracker Barrel. Rogers released his successful memoir, "Luck or Something Like It" in 2012 and became a New York Times Best-Selling Author. In the fall of 2013, Rogers was inducted as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and in 2014 and 2015, the Hall of Fame hosted the exhibit, “Kenny Rogers: Through The Years.” He continued to endear himself to audiences through his timeless music, releasing new acclaimed albums on Warner Bros. Records: You Can't Make Old Friends (2013) and Once Again It's Christmas (2015). He earned a final GRAMMY® nomination in 2014 for his last duet with Dolly Parton, the poignant "You Can't Make Old Friends.” He toured around the world with performances at such prestigious festivals as the Glastonbury Festival and Bonnaroo and made appearances on television – including a well-received GEICO commercial – in 2015. For his widely respected photography work, Rogers received an Honorary Masters of Photography from the Professional Photographers of America in 2014 and in 2017, he was honored with the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Louis, Missouri.

In the fall of 2015, Kenny Rogers made headlines with the announcement that he would soon embark on a farewell tour – after one of the most successful and iconic careers in the history of show business. The spring of 2016 saw the singer begin that process with his "The Gambler's Last Deal" Final World Tour, saying goodbye to his loyal legion of fans one city and one night at a time in what was a critically-acclaimed night of music and memories. And sadly, on March 20, 2020, the world said goodbye to the American music icon.

On March 27, 2020, Capitol Nashville sent "Goodbye," a little-known "unearthed" recording by Rogers written by Lionel Richie, to country radio with the note: "Those closest to Kenny wanted to make this track available to all of his fans." Rogers delivers a moving performance on the emotional song: "There's peace in where you are / May be all I need to know / And if I listen to my heart / I'll hear your laughter once more / And so I have to say / I'm just glad you came my way / It's not easy to say goodbye."