By: Jessi Maness
When many people think of Kenny Rogers, they think of a voice, of a song, of a story. Now they will also be to think of him as a Hall of Famer as Kenny Rogers: Through The Years opens at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
“I’ve always been a believer that if I have a skill, it is picking hit songs. My theory is that if they touch me they can touch other people. If not, I have nothing to bring to the table,” said Rogers to a crowd of a few hundred gathered for a celebration and preview of the exhibit Thursday evening.
“So many people have connected [with you] because they relate to your voice. It doesn’t take but a split second to become a best friend of yours as a fan,” said Charlie Worsham, one of Rogers’ fellow Warner Music Nashville Artists, an emerging entertainer who credits the Hall of Famer for being one of his role models.
Don Schlitz, who wrote Rogers’ hit “The Gambler,” said, “When I came to Nashville in 1973, the person that all of my friends and I wanted to get a record on was Kenny Rogers’,” said Schlitz. “That was the voice we wanted to hear singing our song. And I always wondered why your voice? The “Aha!” moment for me was the night you were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“There was a big party in this room and here you are with your family and you were being so gracious, taking your time with everybody . . . and I heard your sister say, “Kenneth!” and you looked around with such love and respect and I’ve thought about that moment ever since and I realized you weren’t just singing from your heart, you were singing from our hearts,” said Schlitz.
Schlitz and Worsham joined such other musicians as Kim Carnes, Linda Davis, Duane Allen, T.G. Sheppard and all the all the original members of the First Edition —along with music industry executives and members of his family (wife Wanda; sons Justin, Jordan and Chris; brothers and sisters) at the preview event.
At the end of his remarks, Rogers remembered one of the women with whom he collaborated for many years.
Rogers, who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013, said that for those who ask him why they think it took so long for him to be inducted, it’s not a matter of “when” but a matter of “that.” He did, however, say, “I want to go on record right now and say, ‘We need to get Dottie West in here.’”
Rogers then recognized two other women of significance to the exhibit: sisters Susan Bradley and Sharman
Pirkle, fans of Rogers’. The two have attended 1,100 shows over the last 30 years and donated several artifacts to the exhibit, which includes awards, costumes, sheet music, memorabilia and more from Roger’s personal vault and the collections of frequent collaborators. Elaborate outfits Dottie West and Dolly Parton wore in performances with Rogers are among the displays.
Rogers has charted a single in each of the last seven decades, including 21 Billboard No. 1 country hits. “The Gambler” was ranked No. 20 on Rolling Stone’ list of the 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time. He is the Recording Industry Association of America’s eighth best-selling male artist of all time. Rogers also is known for his photographic work, so the exhibit includes assorted cameras Rogers has used and photos he has taken. One is of Michael Jackson from Your Friends and Mine, Rogers’ collection of what he calls the “Who’s Who in Hollywood at the time.”
Recalling the shoot with the iconic pop star, Rogers said, “I said [to Michael], ‘We’ll only be here 15 minutes.’ He brought his chimpanzee and he stayed three hours. I think that picture is one of the first pictures of Michael with a hat that I’ve ever seen.”
Of course, to honor the convincing storyteller Rogers has been “through the years,” the exhibit will feature all the pieces of the costumes Rogers wore and used in the five-part Gambler television movie series. (Incidentally, at the preview gathering, Rogers said, “People think I am the gambler. I don’t gamble. I found out I can’t win enough to excite me, but I can lose enough to depress me.”)
And just as many Kenny Rogers fans know the words to “The Gambler” and can sing it along with him, many now can join in the celebration of the Kenny Rogers story—a look at his life as an actor, singer and photographer . . . and others and come to learn it.
Kenny Rogers: Through the Years opens today and closes June 14, 2015. The grand opening weekend includes the following events:
—Songwriter Session with Don Schlitz, Saturday, August 16, at 11:30 a.m.
—Interview with Kenny Rogers, Saturday, August 16, at 2:30 p.m.
—Film screening of Kenny Rogers: Live by Request: 2001, Sunday, August 17, at 2:00 p.m.
The museum will offer an ongoing series of programs throughout the exhibit’s duration.
The Country Music Hall of Fame is open daily from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Admission (including special events) is $24.95 for adults and $14.95 for children ages 6 to 12.
For more information, call 615-416-2001 or go to countrymusichalloffame.org.