On March 20, 2020 we lost an icon, Kenny Rogers. I like to think he passed on a warm summer’s evening, on a train bound for nowhere, but alas there is always a suspension of disbelief in the “art mirrors life” theory. The three-time Grammy winner passed away at 81, leaving us with no response as we chant for an encore.
From the relatable lyrics of “The Gambler” to the soulful ballad “She Believes in Me,” he could always weave a niche story into a blanket that comforted us all. His deep, soulful voice and soothing twang made us feel at home in any dive bar, karaoke joint, pool hall, or saloon. His work spanned genres and generations, connecting us with every verse.
His accomplishments include 19 Grammy nominations and 3 wins including Best Duo Country Vocal Performance “Make No Mistake She’s Mine” with Ronnie Milsap, Best Male Country Vocal Performance for “The Gambler,” and Best Male Country Vocal Performance for “Lucille.” Though these are country awards, they transcend the genre. The sheer narrative behind each song mixed with a hearth of his gritty passion has the ability to scratch the soul of every listener—country lover or not.
Beyond his trophies, Rogers had something that defies a scoring system—effortless suave. He was a boundless silver fox with energy that jumped beyond the crack of his record to underscore every up and down of life. Even young photos of him capture his knowing eyes that usually only come with age. Every one of his verses is wise and every note purposeful. He will be remembered at every poker table, every train ride and, for me, every karaoke bar.
Between clouded tears of mourning, remember to smile knowing he finally broke even.