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'We all took our lead from Kenny'... Northern Ireland's country stars lead tributes to a trailblazer

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Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers

PA

Kenny Rogers

Stars of country music in Northern Ireland have led tributes to Kenny Rogers after his death at the age of 81.

The husky-voiced singer, known for hits such as Coward Of The County and The Gambler, died at home, aged 81, from natural causes, under hospice care and surrounded by his family.

In their statement, his family said he had "left an indelible mark on the history of American music".

Locally, Philomena Begley was among those paying tribute.

Tyrone's own country queen believes that the American superstar blazed a trail for many country singers.

"Kenny set the tone for other artistes from all over the world, there is no doubt about that," she said. "I consider myself very fortunate to have come into a business that I really love. I have Kenny Rogers to thank for that in large measure because of the quality of his material, his personality and his professionalism ... there will only be the one Kenny Rogers."

Brendan Quinn, who has had a string of hits and is currently residing in the tranquillity of Donegal, has an extra-special reason for having a feeling of gratitude towards Kenny.

"I will never forget 1977," reflects the Magherafelt native. "Myself and my band were invited to perform at the big Wembley Country Festival but I was unaware that there was a black-tie banquet in a top hotel the night before we were due to perform, and we were told to be at it. I have two reasons for remembering the occasion.

"I found myself running into a shop near the hotel to buy myself a decent pair of shoes and it was just as well I did because Kenny Rogers and his band played at the banquet and we got on along with them as well as at the country festival. It was just a magical experience. Kenny was such a gentleman, a real pro who always had audiences in the palm of his hand."

It was in the Seventies that BBC Radio Ulster's Hugo Duncan was taking his first steps in country music along with his band The Tallmen and he has good reason to remember Kenny Rogers.

"Back in those days all the country bands that were starting up in this country just after the showband era were taking on board Kenny's songs and indeed some of them were recording numbers that Kenny had written," Hugo recalled.

"Don't forget, we are going back to Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town and numbers like that which were massive hits. So, you could say that we all took our lead from Kenny."

Jim Devine, who is creating a big impact in Ulster country dancing, said: "I have always thought that Daytime Friends was a particularly brilliant song which showed Kenny at his best. In my book, he just had no peers."

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Kenny Rogers with Tammy Wynette and Glen Campbell

Kenny Rogers with Tammy Wynette and Glen Campbell

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Kenny Rogers with Tammy Wynette and Glen Campbell

Belfast Telegraph