EDITOR’S NOTE: This story first appeared on April 11, 2014. Kenny Rogers, 81, died on Friday (March 20, 2020) at home of natural causes in Sandy Springs, Georgia.
Kenny Rogers arrives at No. 36 on CMT All-Time Top 40: Artist’s Choice , a list of the greatest-ever artists chosen by country stars themselves. One by one, the countdown is revealed each week on CMT Hot 20 Countdown .
Each influential musician or band is ranked based on an artist poll conducted by CMT among the biggest stars in country music. The ballot isn’t limited to just country artists, so over the course of 2014, CMT All-Time Top 40 will highlight artists from all genres that influence country’s biggest names.
After standing out as a member of the vocal group the First Edition, Rogers’ silky-smooth voice and debonair style made him a crossover solo hit with songs like “Lucille,” “Coward of the County” and “The Gambler.” He is also revered for duets with singers like Dottie West on “Every Time Two Fools Collide” and Dolly Parton on “Islands in the Stream.”
Although the humble superstar insists the songs he chose were the key to his success and not his memorable singing, country stars like Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Billy Currington and Darius Rucker disagree. And as for his peers, the Oak Ridge Boys just call Rogers “Sweet Music Man.”
“Kenny Rogers was the first concert I ever went to,” remembers Aldean. “Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers were the opening act, and I remember my mom taking me to see them when I was probably 4 or 5 years old. And at the time, Kenny Rogers was one of the biggest stars on the planet.”
“Kenny Rogers is the definition of cool,” Bryan agrees. “That little silver microphone and that white suit, that white hair and white beard, I mean he was just, crazy. What a figure, what an amazing person to watch, the whole deal.
“I remember me and my producer had a talk about what a true recording artist is — I’ve always tried to morph into what a true recording artist is — and I’ve always felt like Kenny Rogers is at the top of the list of being just an honest recording artist.”
Rucker and Currington had very distinct childhood memories of Rogers.
“Kenny Rogers was huge for me in the ’70s [when I was] listening to too much radio,” Rucker admits. “His records just fit right in whether you were on a country station or if you were on a pop station. His records just always fit right in ’cause he knew how to pick a song, man.”
“I’ve loved him ever since I first went to his concert,” says Currington. “My mom took me and he was performing with Dolly Parton, and for Christmas she got me his music and a little jam box to play it in. That’s all I had, it was just me and Kenny Rogers every day, all the time, so I got to know every song he ever did on his 20 greatest hits. Everything he put out was magical.”
As fellow stars from the same era, the Oak Ridge Boys looked up to Rogers as someone to emulate. Without him, they say, hits like “Elvira” may never have been.
“Kenny Rogers and the First Edition was very influential, I’d say on all of us,” says tenor singer Joe Bonsall. “The big harmony with the good lead voice singing a great song. Kenny started it with those guys.”
“We filled up every arena in the late ’70s and early ’80s in the United States, and he taught us how to do it,” lead singer Duane Allen concludes. “He taught us all the things that we needed to know and how to work the big arenas, and we owe a lot of things to Kenny Rogers.”