In 1959, he started to attend the University of Texas, but soon dropped out to play bass in the Jazz combo, The Bobby Doyle Three. While he was with the group, Rogers continued to explore other musical venues, and played bass on Mickey Gilley's 1960 single, "Is It Wrong". The Bobby Doyle Three released one album, "In A Most Unusual Way", before Rogers left the group to play with The Kirby Stone Four. He didn't stay long with Stone, and he soon landed a solo record contract with Mercury Records.
Rogers released a handful of singles on Mercury, all of which failed. Once the label dropped him, he joined The New Christy Minstrels in 1966. With them, he can be heard singing on the chorus of the hit record, "Green, Green", behind the lead vocal of Barry McGuire, who would later have a solo smash himself with, "Eve Of Destruction". Rogers stayed with the Folk group for a year, leaving with several other band members, Mike Settle, Terry Williams and Thelma Lou Camacho in 1967 to form The First Edition. Adding drummer Terry Jones, The First Edition signed with Reprise and recorded the Pop-Psychedelic single "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)". The single became a hit early in 1968, climbing to number five in the U.S. Within a year, the group was billed as Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, and in the Summer of 1969, they had their second Top Ten hit, "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town".
The country flavor of that single hinted at the direction Rogers was taking, as did the #26 follow-up, "Ruben James". For the next two years, The First Edition bounced between Country, Pop and mild Psychedelia, scoring more chart makers with "Something's Burning" (#11), "Tell It All Brother" (#17) and "Heed the Call" (#33). By the end of 1972, the group had their own syndicated television show, but their record sales were drying up. They left Reprise the following year, signing to Kenny's new label, Jolly Rogers. None of their singles became major hits, though a version of Merle Haggard's "Today I Started Loving You Again" reached the lower regions of the Country charts late in 1973. Rogers left the group in 1974 and the band broke up the following year.
At the time The First Edition split, Kenny Rogers was severely in debt and Jolly Rogers was out of business. In order to jump-start his career, he signed to United Artists in 1975 and with the help of producer Larry Butler, he devised an accessible, radio-ready and immaculately crafted take on Country-Pop that leaned toward Adult Contemporary Pop, not Country. "Love Lifted Me", his debut single for the label, was a minor hit early in 1976 when it came in at #100, but it took a full year for Rogers to have a genuine breakthrough hit with "Lucille". Climbing to number one early in 1977, "Lucille" not only was a major Country hit, earning the Country Music Association's single of the year award, but it also was a huge crossover success, peaking at number five on the Hot 100.
For the next six years, Rogers had a steady string of Top Ten hits on both the Country and Pop charts. His lush, easy-listening productions and smooth croons showed that Country stars could conquer the Pop audience if produced and marketed correctly. During the late '70s and early '80s, much of Country radio was dominated either by Urban Cowboy or Country-Pop in the vein of Rogers' own singles. Between 1978 and 1980, he had five straight number one Country singles - "Love Or Something Like It", "The Gambler", "She Believes in Me", "You Decorated My Life", "Coward Of The County", most of which also reached the Pop Top Ten. In addition to his solo hits, he had a series of Top Ten duets with Dottie West, including the number one hits "Every Time Two Fools Collide" (1978), "All I Ever Need Is You" (1979) and "What Are We Doin' in Love" (1981). Not only did his singles sell well, but so did his albums, with every record he released between 1976's "Kenny Rogers" and 1984's "Once Upon a Christmas" going Gold or Platinum.
By the beginning of the 1980s, Rogers' audience was as much Pop as it was Country, and singles like his cover of Lionel Richie's "Lady" confirmed that fact, spending six weeks at the top of the Hot 100. Kenny also began duetting with singers like Kim Carnes ("Don't Fall in Love with a Dreamer", (#3 Country, #4 Pop, 1980) and Sheena Easton ("We've Got Tonight", (#1 Country, #6 Pop, 1983). Rogers also began making inroads into television and film, appearing in a number of TV specials and made-for-TV movies, including 1982's Six Pack and two movies based on his songs The Gambler and Coward of the County.
Late in 1983, he left United Artists for RCA Records, releasing a duet with Dolly Parton called "Islands in the Stream" as his first single for the label. Written by The Bee Gees and produced by Barry Gibb, the record became one of his biggest hits, spending two weeks on the top of both the Country and Pop charts. Rogers stayed at RCA for five years, during which time he alternated between Adult Contemporary Pop and slick Country-Pop. In 1985, Kenny participated in the historical recording of "We Are The World", the multi-celebrity performance which raised millions of dollars for famine relief in Africa. A year later, he co-chaired the Hands Across America fund-raiser for America’s hungry. He also managed to log five number one Country singles, "Crazy" (1984), "Real Love" (1985), "Morning Desire" (1985), "Tomb Of The Unknown Love" (1986), and the Ronnie Milsap duet "Make No Mistake, She's Mine" (1987). Despite his Country successes, he no longer had Pop crossover hits. Nevertheless, Rogers' concerts continued to be popular, as did his made-for-television movies. Still, the lack of blockbuster records meant that RCA failed to renew his contract when it expired in 1988. Kenny returned to his first label, Reprise, where he had one major Country hit, 1989's Top Ten "The Vows Go Unbroken (Always True to You)", taken from the Gold selling album "Something Inside So Strong".
Throughout the late '80s and '90s, Kenny kept busy with charity work, concerts, his fast-food chain Kenny Rogers' Roasters, television specials, movies and photography, publishing two books, Kenny Rogers' America and Kenny Rogers: Your Friends and Mine. He continued to record, releasing albums nearly every year, but they failed to break beyond his large, devoted fan base and only made a slight impact on the charts. With 1998's "Christmas from the Heart", he established his own record label, Dreamcatcher, and released "She Rides Wild Horses" a year later and "There You Go Again" in mid-2000.
The 2006 album, "Water & Bridges", peaked at #5 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, also charting high in the Billboard Hot 200. The first single from that LP was "I Can't Unlove You", which peaked at #17 on the Country chart. The second single from the album, "The Last Ten Years (Superman)", was issued in September 2006 and the third single, "Calling Me", was nominated for an award at the 2007 Grammys. On August 26th, of 2008, Rogers released "50 Years", which was made available exclusively at Cracker Barrel stores. The album includes some of his greatest hits, plus three new songs. His 2008 Christmas show was a sell-out wherever it played. In 2009 Kenny set out on his 50th Anniversary tour, which took him through England, Ireland and America. On April 10th, 2010, a TV special called Kenny Rogers: The First 50 Years was taped at the MGM Grand in Foxwoods, with special guests Dolly Parton and Lionel Richie.
As of 2011, Rogers had recorded 65 albums and sold over 190 million records. He remained a much sought after entertainer and was still performing for sell-out crowds across America. On October 2nd, 2012, Kenny's autobiography, Luck or Something Like It, hit store shelves. On October 27th, 2013, Kenny was inducted into The Country Music Hall Of Fame, along with Bobby Bare and Jack Clement. Kenny summed up the honor by saying "Music comes and goes. Records come and go. But, the Hall of Fame is forever, baby."
All good things must come to and end and in September, 2015, Kenny announced that he would retire after his next world tour ended in April, 2017. "I've done this long enough. There's a fine line between being driven and being selfish, and I think I crossed that line when I was younger," Rogers said. "I really want to be there with my kids and my wife. I don't see enough of them. And I have some things on my bucket list." Although that tour would later be extended, Kenny was forced to cancel his remaining shows from April, 2018 to the end of the year due to what was described as "a series of health challenges."
Over the course of a stellar career, Kenny Rogers has received three Grammys, eleven People's Choice Awards, eighteen American Music Awards, eight Academy of Country Music awards and six Country Music Association awards.