Kenny Rogers, the ballad-oriented singer who played a significant part in bringing country music to pop audiences in the 1970s and ’80s, died on Friday at his home in Sandy Springs, Ga. He was 81.

Rogers died of natural causes.

“Kenny was one of those artists who transcended beyond one format and geographic borders," says Country Music Association CEO Sarah Trahern. "He was a global superstar who helped introduce Country Music to audiences all around the world. I had the pleasure of working with him over the years and I’ll always remember his graciousness and kind heart. He has left us with his music, some of which will go down as the most memorable performances in Country Music history. Our condolences go out to his family and friends at this sad time."

Known for duets and his chart-topping rendition of Lionel Richie’s “Lady,” Rogers had 21 #1 country hits and 20 records in the pop Top 40. His duet with Dolly Parton on “Islands in the Stream” was also a pop #1.

When Rogers emerged as a solo artist in 1976, he was more mature than most of his contemporaries, though two of his first singles went Top 20 country, “Love Lifted Me” and “Laura (What’s He Got That I Ain’t Got).”

He had his first smash at the age of 38, “Lucille.” Released by United Artists, it defied categorization—too pop for country, too country for pop—but eventually went #1 country and Top 10 pop.

From there, Rogers’ rugged good looks and the warmth of his voice defied trends and allowed him to roll through decades without altering his signature, easy-going style. Beginning with “Lucille,” Rogers had 18 consecutive singles go Top 10 country with 11 of them hitting #1. Many of the records made their way onto the pop and adult contemporary charts as well.

At the time he participated in the charity single “We Are the World,” Rogers had come off a string of hits that included “Islands in the Steam,”  “Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer”  with Kim Carnes, “We’ve Got Tonight” with Sheena Easton, “What About Me” with Carnes and James Ingram, and “This Woman.”

Rogers’ last Top 20 country hit was “I Can’t Unlove You” in 2005.

He was among the first country stars to cross over to play arenas and in the 1980s made his mark in acting, starring in several TV movies based on his song The Gambler.

A Houston native, he learned to play bass and guitar and sang in a doo-wop group. Local label Carlton released his first record, “That Crazy Feeling” in 1958, that did well locally and led to an appearance on American Bandstand.

After high school, Rogers joined the folk group the New Christy Minstrels before founding his own band, The First Edition. The band scored a Top 10 hit in 1967 with the psychedelic pop tune “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” on Reprise, a song written by Rogers’ high school friend Mickey Newbury.

They hit the Top 40 one other time, with “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” in 1969, and released nine studio albums before breaking up in 1976.

"Kenny played a pioneering role in bringing country into the pop mainstream, and his music and his fans transcended genre—from country to rock, pop to R&B," noted Warner Music Nashville boss John Esposito. "We at Warner Music were blessed to be part of Kenny’s musical life at several points in his phenomenal career—going all the way back to 1967... As a solo artist, Kenny released a trio of albums on Reprise in the late-‘80s/early-‘90s, and then we had the good fortune to bring him into the Warner Nashville family in 2013. We were the final label he signed with, and home to his two final studio albums before he retired in 2018. In that short time, I came to know Kenny as one of warmest, funniest, and most genuine people on the planet. When he walked our halls, it was a joy to watch the smiles of all who experienced his charm and his humanity. That we had the chance to work with that wonderful music man was a thrill and a memory of a lifetime! Above all, he was the consummate artist, whose golden, husky voice and amazing songs touched and moved people across the globe. He will be deeply missed."

"Kenny Rogers will forever be woven into the fabric of the music business," reads a quote issued by the Music Business Association. "Our condolences are with Rogers' wife and children and the music fans across the globe that mourn his passing." 

A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Rogers received  three Grammy Awards, all in country categories. The Country Music Association gave him lifetime achievement award in 2013; the Academy of Country Music gave him the Cliffie Stone Award in 2009.


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