Country Music Hall of Fame legend Kenny Rogers was celebrated Wednesday night with the first broadcast of CMT Giants: Kenny Rogers, a benefit for the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund. The special, which aired on CMT, featured intimate at-home performances of songs for which the pop-country singer was well-known, and included appearances from Vince Gill, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, Gavin DeGraw, Jennifer Nettles, Lady Antebellum, Lionel Richie, Michael McDonald, Randy Houser and Rascal Flatts.
Rogers, who died of natural causes March 21st at age 81, was the remarkable voice behind such hits as “The Gambler,” “Lucille,” “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In,” but it was “Sweet Music Man,” a candid and personal song his close longtime friend and duet partner Dolly Parton offered in tribute, that perhaps best summed up the musicians’ collective thoughts about the artist who inspired them.
A heartbreaking ballad written by Rogers, a rare occurrence for the deft interpreter of other tunesmith’s works, “Sweet Music Man” took all of 20 minutes for Rogers to write, yet it hauntingly captures a poignant reality — that the lure of music is timeless, unstoppable, and indeed sweet. Parton’s acoustic performance, set against a spare, candlelit backdrop, is touching and warmly conversational, especially her breathy delivery of the closing line “I believe in you.” In 1977, the year Rogers included the tune on his Daytime Friends LP, Parton also cut it as the closing track on her breakthrough country-pop album Here You Come Again.
Rogers’ early career as frontman of the Sixties rock band the First Edition was also paid tribute with a lively fiddle-and-guitars rendition of “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” sung by Jason Isbell, accompanied by his wife, Amanda Shires, and guitarist Seth Plemmons.
CMT Giants Kenny Rogers: A Benefit For MusiCares will encore on MTV Live Friday, April 10th, at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT and on CMT Saturday, April 11th at 12:00 p.m. ET/PT.