Kenny Roberts Biography

George Kingsbury, 14 October 1926, Lenoir City, Tennessee, USA. After Roberts’ mother died when he was a child, the family relocated to a farm near Athol, Massachusetts. He learned guitar, harmonica and fiddle and grew up listening to the music of the singing cowboys and the yodelling of Elton Britt. He won a talent competition when he was 13 years old and first played with the Red River Rangers on WHAI Greenfield in 1942. He moved to WKNE Keene, New Hampshire, the following year, where he became a member of the Down Homers. In 1946, the group moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where they regularly played the Barn Dance programme known as theHoosier Hop. When the group relocated to Connecticut, Roberts decided it was time to launch his solo career. He had first recorded as a member of the group, but in early 1947 he recorded some solo tracks for Vita-Coustic. When these were not released, he moved to Coral. He worked regularly on stations in Fort Wayne and also KMOF St Louis, before moving to WLW Cincinnati in 1948.

He acquired many nicknames during his career, not least of which was the Jumping Cowboy, a name he earned for his strange ability to jump several feet in the air while singing. He performed this feat regularly on his WLW children’s television programme. He was an outstanding yodeller and naturally, many of his recordings demonstrate this talent with such fine examples as ‘She Taught Me How To Yodel’ and ‘Yodel Polka’. Experts in the art rate that his speciality ‘galloping yodel’ made him the world’s fastest yodeller. In 1949, he achieved his greatest hit when his recording of ‘I Never See Maggie Alone’ became a million-seller. It was a Top 10 hit in both US pop and country charts and also has the distinction of being possibly the first British composition to make the Top 10 in the US country charts (it dated from 1926 and featured lyrics by Harry Tilsley and music by Everett Lynton). In 1949-50, he had further US country chart hits with ‘Wedding Bells’, ‘Jealous Heart’ and ‘Choc’late Ice Cream Cone’. During the 50s and mid-60s, he recorded for various labels, although few releases appeared, but in the late 60s, he recorded four complete albums for Starday. In the 70s, he recorded a tribute album to his idol Elton Britt and was asked to take Britt’s place at a concert in 1972 in New Jersey on the night that Britt died.

Roberts semi-retired for a time in the late 50s but soon returned and has maintained an active participation ever since. He has fronted his own shows on radio and television on many stations and has appeared at all the major venues, including the Wheeling Jamboree and the Grand Ole Opry. With his wife Bettyanne (who writes some of his songs), he has toured in Australia, the Far East and throughout Europe. He is especially popular in the UK, where he is still rated by his best-known nickname of King Of The Yodelers.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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