Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 21 August 1938, Houston TX; d 20 March 2020, Sandy Springs GA) Country singer and superstar, with crossover pop hits from '76. Began playing rock'n'roll in the Scholars, a high school band; they had regional hit 'Crazy Feeling' '57. Studied at U of Houston; joined jazz combo Bobby Doyle Trio, harmony quartet Lively Ones; with New Christy Minstrels '64-6, left with Mike Settle and others to form the First Edition, signed with Reprise and scored a top five pop hit with Mickey Newbury song 'Just Dropped In (To See What My Condition Was In)' '68. Billing was changed to Kenny Rogers and the First Edition; ten hits total through '72 saw many co-produced by Rogers. His grainy vocals were perfectly suited to their country-rock sound; they had albums Tell It All Brother and Transition '70-1, TV series Rollin' '72, split up when the hits fell off.

He signed solo with UA in Nashville '75, produced by Larry Butler; first single, gospel-styled 'Love Lifted Me', reached country top ten and scraped into pop Hot 100; fourth single 'Lucille' was a country no. 1, no. 5 pop, won a Grammy and several CMA awards. He soon developed a slick MOR sound that had moved some way from pure country, but it didn't seem to matter: fans just loved that voice, reportedly made him the highest paid entertainer in the world. Country hits included duets with Dottie West, four of them in '78-9 alone; he crossed over with total of 29 Hot 100 pop entries through '85: three top 10 pop hits in '79 ('She Believes In Me', 'You Decorated My Life', 'Coward Of The Country'), top five duet with Kim Carnes 'Don't Fall In Love With A Dreamer' '80; switch to Liberty imprint began with no. 1 pop hit 'Lady', written/produced by Lionel Richie, no. 3 'I Don't Need You' and several others produced by Richie; duet 'We've Got Tonight' with Sheena Easton '83 was top ten pop, no. 1 country; RCA reportedly paid a record fee to secure his contract and were rewarded with what was said to be the biggest-selling single in their history: duet 'Islands In The Stream' with Dolly Parton was no. 1 both country/pop, written by the Bee Gees, from album produced by them called Eyes That See In The Dark with more hits including the title track.

Liberty released new hits from the the vault including another duet with West ('Together Again' '84). Country hits included 'Morning Desire' and 'Tomb Of The Unknown Love' at no. 1, 'Twenty Years Ago' no. 2 '86; 'They Don't Make Them Like They Used To' and duet 'The Pride Is Back' with Nickie Ryder were country entries also listed in Billboard's 'Hot Adult Contemporary' chart. He left the pop charts '85, continued with country hits till '92; appeared in nine made- for-TV movies '80-94 including four about The Gambler. Albums included Love Lifted Me '76, Daytime Friends '77, Love Or Something Like It '78, duets with West Everytime Two Fools Collide and Classics '78-9, The Gambler '79, Kenny, Gideon and Singles Album '80, all on UA; Lady and Share Your Love '81, We've Got Tonight '83, Short Stories '86 on Liberty; The Heart Of The Matter '85, They Don't Make Them Like They Used To '87 on RCA. Switched to Reprise for more albums including Something Inside So Strong '89, Love Is Strange '90, Back Home Again '91; If Only My Heart Had A Voice '93 on Giant, The Gift '96 on Magnatone.