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Resident Spotlight: Legendary Music Maker Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers, one of the best-selling musicians of all time, has been laid to rest at Oakland Cemetery. The singer/songwriter, actor, and entrepreneur’s monument is located east of the Memorial Drive gate along Oakland’s southern wall. Fans and music lovers can celebrate and honor the life of this talented artist, whose exceptional career spanned six decades and crossed multiple genres.

Kenneth Ray Rogers was born on August 21, 1938, in Houston, Texas. He, his parents, and his seven siblings shared a three-bedroom apartment in a housing project in Houston’s Fourth Ward. His mother, Lucille Rogers, was a nurse’s assistant. His father, Floyd Rogers, a carpenter, shared his love of music with young Kenny. Floyd played the fiddle, and his brothers played guitar. On weekends, Floyd piled the kids into the truck and took them to their grandfather’s farm, where the family gathered on the porch and played gospel songs. Young Kenny would join in, using his hands to pound out drum beats on the wooden boards.

Kenny Rogers, Thelma Camacho, Mike Settle and Terry Williams of the band Kenny Rogers & The First Edition perform on a TV show in 1967. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

By age 11, Rogers had formed his first band. The Scholars, a doo-wop group, performed at the local Texan Theatre and Jefferson Davis High School. In 1957, a year after graduation, Rogers scored his first hit with “That Crazy Feeling.” His band was invited to perform on American Bandstand.

Rogers’ first professional performance was with the Bobby Doyle Trio. He played stand-up bass, as well as bass guitar, and sang. In 1966, he joined the New Christy Minstrels, a folk group – the band later changed its name to Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. This was Rogers’ breakthrough, as the band charted with hits like “Just Dropped In” and “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” The group also hosted a syndicated TV series.

When The First Edition broke up around 1975, Rogers launched a long and successful solo career. Over the next several decades, he earned 21 American Music Awards, eleven People’s Choice Awards, ten Academy of Country Music Awards, six Country Music Association Awards, three GRAMMY Awards, as well as lifetime awards from CMT, IEBA, SESAC, and TNN. Rogers joined the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013.

Kenny Rogers performs at the Rosemont Horizon (later renamed the Allstate Arena), Rosemont, Illinois, June 13, 1982. Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images.

Kenny Rogers’ music crossed genres, finding success in the Country, Top 40, R&B, and Gospel charts. He had 24 number one hits, including favorites like “Lady,” “Islands in the Stream,” “The Gambler,” “Lucille,” and “She Believes in Me.” Rogers sold more than 47 million records in the US alone, with 12 number one albums and 25 top ten country albums. His career included several successful collaborations with performers like Dolly Parton, Sheena Easton, and Lionel Richie.

In addition to his musical prowess, Rogers found success in acting. He starred in the 1982 movie Six Pack about a race-car driver, played Brady Hawkes in the popular The Gambler TV series, and appeared in made-for-TV movies Christmas in America and Coward of the Country. Rogers narrated the historical TV series The Real West on A&E.

Kenny Rogers dedicated time to his other interests, which included landscaping, design, and tennis. His passion for photography led to several books, including his Kenny Rogers’ America and Your Friends and Mine, plus his autobiographies Making It With Music and Luck or Something Like It. For his accomplishments in photography, Rogers earned an Honorary Masters of Photography from the Professional Photographers of America and the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Photography Hall of Fame. Rogers also invested in a chain of Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurants, put his name to the Gambler Chassis Company racing manufacturer, partnered on a Missouri-based riverboat business, and supported numerous charitable causes.

In 2015, Kenny Rogers announced that he would embark on a worldwide farewell tour. It was his opportunity to celebrate his iconic career and say goodbye to millions of his loyal fans. His final concert took place in October 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. He was joined onstage by Lionel Richie, Kris Kristofferson, Alison Krauss, Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, and many other friends and collaborators.

On March 20, 2020, Kenny Rogers passed away at his home in Sandy Springs, Georgia. He was 81 years old. Rogers was under hospice care at the time, having suffered from previous health issues such as bladder cancer. Rogers died surrounded by family, including his wife, Wanda Rogers. Kenny has five children: daughter Carole, and sons Kenneth, Christopher, Justin, and Jordan.

 

Dr. Megan Hodgkiss is the CEO and Principal Writer of Hodgkiss Consulting LLC, a strategic communications company. She volunteers with Historic Oakland Foundation for special events as well as research and writing projects.
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