Born in Texas, the fourth of eight children, singer Kenny Rogers grew up in a poor area of Houston where his father worked in a shipyard and his mother in a hospital. He became the first member of his family to graduate from high school. He took an interest in singing while quite young and as a teenager joined a doo-wop recording group who called themselves “The Scholars”. At age 19, Kenny recorded “That Crazy Feeling” for a small Houston label, Carlton Records, and his career was off and running. Kenny joined the “New Christy Minstrels” in the mid-1960s, then splintered off with others in the popular group to form “The First Edition”. Their first big soft-rock hit, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” hit #6 on the US charts, while later successes included “Something’s Burning”, “Just Dropped In”, “Tell It All Brother” and “Reuben James”. The husky-framed singer’s ingratiating personality and sensual gravel tones soon took center stage and the group eventually renamed themselves “Kenny Rogers and the First Edition”. They hosted a syndicated TV variety series from 1971 to 1973 called Rollin’ on the River (1971) but the pressures of taping a weekly show caused extreme friction within the group and eventually took its toll. After a couple of years of producing non-hit songs, the group disbanded in the mid-70s. Solo stardom seemed to be inevitable for Kenny and he began chalking up a string of country-tinged ‘top 20’ pop hits with “Lucille” (#5), “Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer” (#4, with Kim Carnes), “Through the Years” (#13), “We’ve Got Tonight” (#6, with Sheena Easton) and his two #1 hit sellers “Islands in the Stream” (with Dolly Parton) and “Lady”. By the late 1970s, he had sold over $100 million worth of records. The 1980s would tell a different story. Normally considered an easygoing talent, he was unflatteringly dubbed the “overweight lightweight” by Rolling Stone Magazine, and the silvery-maned Kenny soon experienced a major slump. After charting lower and lower, he wisely branched off into other successful areas. In 1980, he touched off a modest, but appealing acting career with the TV-movie The Gambler (1980), based on his 1979 song hit. This led to four equally popular sequels. He also became a perennial star or co-star of TV seasonal specials. In addition, he published several books on photography and opened a rotisserie-chicken fast-food franchise. Less and less visible in the ensuing years, Kenny produced the 1999 album “She Rides Wild Horses”, which peaked at #6 on the country charts, his highest in 15 years, and included the #1 single “Buy Me a Rose”. Spending a lot of time breeding Arabian horses and cattle on a 1,200-acre Georgia farm, Kenny’s seems settled with his fifth wife Wanda Miller, who he married in 1997. One of his sons, Kenneth Rogers, once followed in his father’s boot steps, briefly launching his own singing career in 1989 with “Take Another Step Closer”. He now is on the business end of entertainment providing music for TV and movies. Kenny’s other two children are Carole and Christopher.
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