For Rogers, it was a music icon who fused rhythm & blues with country, jazz and other musical influences.
In receiving the Artist of a Lifetime award presented by Ram Trucks, Rogers recalled the pivotal moment while growing up in Texas.
"This all started with me when I was 12 years old and I went to see Ray Charles," he said. "I went home and I told my mom, 'That's what I want to do.'
"So all of you guys, when you go on a stage, just know that there's a 10, 11 or 12-year-old boy or girl saying the same thing to their parents. You can change the world."
Another legend -- veteran TV newsman Dan Rather -- presented the Artist of a Lifetime award to Rogers during Wednesday's (Dec. 2) event in downtown Nashville and noted that few artists ever completely change the landscape of an entire genre.
"Kenny Rogers did just that," he said. "Kenny Rogers was one of the first-ever crossover artists. He's a television star, and he's been a major presence across all media for 40 years. … Kenny Rogers is an icon. He's a patriarch of the entire country music family. He's a great friend to many, and he's an inspiration to us all."