Full name, Kenneth Ray Rogers; born August 21, 1938, in Houston, Tex.; son of Edward Floyd (a carpenter) and Lucille (Hester) Rogers; married fourth wife, Marianne Gordon (an actress), October 2, 1977; children: (first marriage) Carole Lynn; (third marriage) Kenneth Ray, Jr.; (fourth marriage) Christopher Cody. Education: Attended University of Houston, c. 1958. Addresses: Home --Athens, Ga; and Los Angeles, Calif. Manager --Kragen & Co., 1112 North Sherbourne Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90069.

Kenny Rogers has been described in McCall 's as "the silver-haired singer with the voice that's turned dozens of songs to gold." Rogers, an astute thirty-year veteran of the music business, is a rarity, indeed: he's a crossover artist who moved from pop to country, rather than vice versa. His story ballads and love songs have found a wide mainstream audience and have been phenomenal successes, earning him eleven platinum and eighteen gold albums in a ten-year span.

"There are many flashes in the pan in popular music, people who have a hit record or two and then disappear from the spotlight," observes Gene Busnar in Superstars of Country Music. "But Kenny Rogers, who had his first hit as a teenager, worked hard and kept at it for twenty years before reaching true superstardom. In that time, he played in jazz combos, folksinging groups, and rock bands. Better musicians with better voices took their bow in the spotlight and faded from glory as the musical trend they were part of was replaced by something new. But Kenny kept growing and changing with the times until he finally carved out a permanent spot as a superstar."

Few would argue that Rogers is one of the best-known singers in America, but his contribution to his industry is more substantial than mere personal popularity. Rogers is a pioneer of mainstream country music--a style that appeals to a far wider group than standard country fans. He told the Chicago Tribune that he views his fusion of rock, folk, pop, and country as a positive force that has "brought a lot of people into the fold who wouldn't have listened to country music otherwise. It used to be you either liked country music or you didn't, because it all sounded alike. Now it's no longer one-dimensional, and I think that's great."

Kenneth Ray Rogers was born and raised in Houston, Texas, one of seven siblings. He grew up in a federal housing project that he has described in People magazine as "a tenement." The Rogers family was very poor, and Rogers's father had a drinking problem, but still Kenny remembers his family fondly. By ninth grade the young Rogers had decided to become a professional musician. He bought himself a guitar with money earned as a restaurant busboy and formed a band, The Scholars, with several friends from school. Thanks to his brother Lelan, who worked for a Houston record distributor, The Scholars actually got to record some music. A few of their songs became regional hits, and the band earned money doing live performances.

In 1957 Rogers recorded several solo singles, and one of them, "That Crazy Feeling," became a million-selling hit. Rogers appeared on "American Bandstand" and became prematurely convinced that he was headed for permanent stardom. Many lean years lay ahead of him, however. Lacking a good song to follow his first success, and a professional band to back him, Rogers could not duplicate his first hit. Instead he went to college for one term and then joined a jazz group, The Bobby Doyle Trio. The trio attracted the attention of Kirby Stone, a star of that era. Stone invited the group to tour with him, and under that tutelage, Rogers learned how to conduct himself in the music business.

In 1966 Rogers was playing with a jazz combo called The Lively Ones when Stone's manager offered him a position in The New Christy Minstrels. The Minstrels were a pop-folk group that had had several hits and were planning a national tour. Rogers joined the group even though he had to take a cut in pay--he thought the national exposure would advance his career. According to Busnar, The Minstrels "were making a nice living playing the safe kind of folk music that much of middle America still wanted to hear. But Kenny and some of his cohorts wanted to become part of the more exciting and potentially more rewarding new folk rock."

Rogers and three associates left the Minstrels in 1967 to form their own group, The First Edition. Adopting the long-haired look of the times, the band released folk songs with rock overtones, and within six months it had a hit, "Just Dropped in (To See What Condition My Condition Was In). The First Edition had to wait two years for another hit, but when it came it was a major one. With Rogers singing lead, "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" topped the 1969 charts. That same year the group changed its name to "Kenny Rogers and the First Edition," recognizing that the charming but driven lead singer was the main attraction.

The First Edition fell into a slump in the mid-1970s, finally disbanding in debt in 1976. Rogers describes that period as the low point of his career. "For five or six months I just sat around and thought," he told People. He also said that he came to realize that "there's a new hit rock group or singer every five minutes, but with country music, you have one hit and those people love you forever." Rogers headed for Nashville, changed his stage image, and began recording country music. "Emotionally," he said, "it was like coming home."

In 1977 he had four top-ten country hits and one crossover million-seller, the mock-tragic "Lucille," about a broken marriage. "Lucille" won numerous awards for Rogers, including a Grammy and citations from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association. "For Kenny Rogers and his manager Ken Kragen," writes Busnar, "it was only the beginning." Rogers promoted himself tirelessly and carefully, with an eye on his business affairs and an ear on potential recording material.

Before long he was churning out a string of platinum albums and top-ten singles that rode both the country and pop charts. Just a few of these hit singles include story ballads such as "The Gambler" and "The Coward of the County," the love songs "Lady," "You Decorated My Life," and "She Believes in Me," and the duet "Islands in the Stream." By 1980 Rogers was one of the best-paid performers in the country, and he and his fourth wife Marianne Gordon were breaking records with extravagant expenditures on homes in Los Angeles and Georgia.

Despite his success, Rogers retains an element of insecurity, based on his poverty-stricken youth and his off-years as an adult. The insecurity has had positive repercussions, however. Rogers has never been content with a comfortable niche--he is constantly experimenting with other performance options. "How long can I go on singing Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town and Lady? " he asked in People. "Can I still do this when I'm 55? Movies will allow me to carry on for a few years after the music is over."

With his rugged but regular features and characteristic growling voice, Rogers has indeed found film roles in both features and made-for-TV vehicles, some of which have been based on his story songs. He is also entering the competitive daytime talk-variety show market with a syndicated program for television. Rogers told McCall's: "A lot of people in this business devote ninety-five percent of their lives to music. When the music goes, there goes ninety-five percent of their lives. I can express my creativity in different ways." Rogers insists he does not plan to give up singing--he simply is engaged in diversifying his talents among acting, hosting television, photography, and writing.

Not every critic has been charitable about Roger's music. Esquire reviewer Mark Jacobson contended that Rogers "can barely sing. His middle range isn't that awful.... But down low he croaks bad. Upward, he's so pinched as to recall a trapped, furry thing. For a country artist, he is without down-homeness; as a rocker, he ignites nothing." New York Daily News contributor William Carlton offered a different view of the popular entertainer. According to Carlton, Rogers "sings in a warm, supple, romantic, tender voice with a surprisingly wide range. His story songs are always fresh, tasteful, honest and intelligent, well-crafted and interesting. The man and his music are as welcome as old friends and family."

Rogers and his wife divide their time between Los Angeles and a farm near Athens, Georgia, where they raise horses. Rogers has admitted that his early quest for success ruined his three previous marriages and alienated him from his oldest two children, now grown adults. He has sought to make amends by spending more time with his families, including his youngest son, Christopher. Still, Rogers is intense about his career and almost singleminded in his pursuit of prestige. His manager Ken Kragen told McCall's: "Part of Kenny never really slows down. He wears out the people who travel with him."

The years have given Rogers a perspective on success, however. He told McCall's: "Being onstage, getting immediate feedback from an audience, is absolutely addictive. It's worse than heroin. I'm lucky because other things in my life give me the same sort of high." In People, Rogers concluded: "I'm enjoying my rise from the ashes. I just hope I can spread some of the happiness that's been coming my way."

by Anne Janette Johnson

Kenny Rogers's Career

Pop-rock singer, 1957-76; country-pop singer, 1976--. Formed group The Scholars, 1957; member of The Bobby Doyle Trio, 1959-66; member of The New Christy Minstrels, 1966-67; founding member (with Mike Settle, Terry Williams, and Thelma Camacho) of The First Edition, 1967, name changed to Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, 1969-76; solo artist, 1976--. Star of numerous motion pictures and television shows.

Kenny Rogers's Awards

Named "crossover artist of the year" by Billboard magazine, 1977; Grammy Award for best male country vocal performance, 1977, for "Lucille"; Academy of Country Music awards for best single and for best song, 1977, for "Lucille"; Country Music Association citation for song of the year, 1977, for "Lucille"; received best male vocalist awards from Academy of Country Music, 1977 and 1979; recipient of Country Music Association Awards, 1978 and 1979. Named top male vocalist by People magazine, 1979 and 1980; Grammy Award for best male country performance, 1980, for "The Gambler"; American Music Awards for best male country vocalist and for best country album, 1984; recipient of United Nations Peace Award, 1984; received Most Awarded Artist Award from Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), 1984; recipient of Roy Acuff Award, 1985; American Music Awards for best male country vocalist and for best country album, 1985; Grammy Award (with Ronnie Milsap) for best country vocal duet, 1987. Holder of eleven platinum and eighteen gold records.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

July 6, 2004: Rogers and his wife, Wanda, welcomed the birth of identical twin boys, Justin Charles and Jordan Edward. Source: Associated Press, http://customwire.ap.org, July 7, 2004.

Further Reading

Books

Periodicals

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 8 years ago

Odd. My name is Rogers, Floyd was the name of Kenny's father and it is my name also. My ex-wife was a Hester and Kenny's mother was a Hester. My middle name is Ray and also his middle name is Ray. Wow! My great-grandfather's brother was kidnapped by a group of traveling Gypsies who was followed down to Texas but never found him. His name was Lee. Both my brother and I kinda share his looks very much. Weird world.

over 8 years ago

Everything I've ever read about Kenny Rogers says that his middle name is "Donald" not Ray.