Kenny Rankin

Last updated
Kenny Rankin
Born(1940-02-10)February 10, 1940
New York City, New York, United States
DiedJune 7, 2009(2009-06-07) (aged 69)
Los Angeles, California
GenresPop, rock, [1] folk, [2] jazz
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter
InstrumentsVocals, guitar, piano
Labels Mercury, Little David, Atlantic, Cypress, Private Music, Chesky, Verve

Kenny Rankin (February 10, 1940 – June 7, 2009) was an American pop singer and songwriter from the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City.

Washington Heights, Manhattan Neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City

Washington Heights is a neighborhood in the northern portion of the New York City borough of Manhattan. The area, with over 150,000 inhabitants as of 2010, is named for Fort Washington, a fortification constructed at the highest point on the island of Manhattan by Continental Army troops during the American Revolutionary War, to defend the area from the British forces. Washington Heights is bordered by Harlem to the south, along 155th Street, Inwood to the north along Dyckman Street or Hillside Avenue, the Hudson River to the west, and the Harlem River and Coogan's Bluff to the east.



Rankin was raised in New York, and was introduced to music by his mother, who sang at home and for friends. Early in his career he worked as a singer-songwriter, and developed a considerable following during the 70s with a steady flow of albums, three of which broke into the Top 100 of the Billboard Album Chart. His liking for jazz was evident from an early age, but the times were such that in order to survive his career had to take a more pop-oriented course. By the 90s, however, he was able to angle his repertoire to accommodate his own musical preferences and to please a new audience while still keeping faith with the faithful. Rankin's warm singing style and his soft, nylon-stringed guitar sound might suggest an artist more attuned to the supper club circuit than the jazz arena, but his work contains many touches that appeal to the jazz audience.

Supper club

A supper club is a traditional dining establishment that also functions as a social club. The term may describe different establishments depending on the region, but in general, supper clubs tend to present themselves as having a high-class image, even if the price is affordable to all. A newer usage of the term supper club has emerged, referring to underground restaurants.

Rankin appeared on The Tonight Show more than twenty times. Host Johnny Carson was so impressed by him that he wrote the liner notes to Rankin's 1967 debut album Mind Dusters, which featured the single "Peaceful." Rankin would record the song again for 1972's Like A Seed, while Helen Reddy would reach #2 Adult Contemporary and #12 Pop in 1973 with a cover of the song, released as her follow-up single to "I Am Woman". Georgie Fame also had a hit with this song in 1969, Rankin's only songwriting credit to hit the British charts, reaching #16 and spending nine weeks on the chart.

<i>The Tonight Show</i> American late-night talk show

The Tonight Show is an American late-night talk show currently broadcast from the NBC Studios in Rockefeller Center in New York City, the show's original location and airing on NBC since 1954. The series has been hosted by six comedians: Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, and Jimmy Fallon, and had several recurring guest hosts including Ernie Kovacs during the Steve Allen era and Joan Rivers, Garry Shandling and Jay Leno during Johnny Carson's stewardship, although the practice has been abandoned since Carson's departure, with hosts preferring reruns to showcasing potential rivals. The Tonight Show is the world's longest-running talk show, and the longest-running, regularly scheduled entertainment program in the United States. It is the third-longest-running show on NBC, after the news-and-talk shows Today and Meet the Press.

Johnny Carson American talk show host and magician

John William Carson was an American television host, comedian, writer, and producer. He is best known as the host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962–1992). Carson received six Emmy Awards, the Television Academy's 1980 Governor's Award, and a 1985 Peabody Award. He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987. Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992 and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1993.

Peaceful (song) 1973 single by Helen Reddy

"Peaceful" is a song written by Kenny Rankin, and recorded by several artists. It is best known in the hit singles for Georgie Fame (1969) and Helen Reddy (1973).

Rankin's accompanists from time to time included Alan Broadbent, Mike Wofford and Bill Watrous, and on such occasions the mood slipped easily into a jazz groove. His compositions have been performed by artists such as Mel Tormé and Carmen McRae, while Stan Getz said of him that he was "a horn with a heartbeat". Rankin was deeply interested in Brazilian music and his Here In My Heart, on which he used jazz guests including Michael Brecker and Ernie Watts, was recorded mostly in Rio de Janeiro. More contemporary songs were given an airing following his move to Verve Records, including the Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face" and Leon Russell's "A Song for You." [2]

Mel Tormé American recording artist, singer, songwriter, actor, writer, music arranger

Melvin Howard Tormé, best known as Mel Tormé and nicknamed The Velvet Fog, was an American musician, a singer of jazz standards. He was also a jazz composer and arranger, drummer, an actor in radio, film, and television, and the author of five books. He composed the music for "The Christmas Song" and co-wrote the lyrics with Bob Wells.

Carmen McRae American jazz musician and actress

Carmen Mercedes McRae was an American jazz singer. She is considered one of the most influential jazz vocalists of the 20th century and is remembered for her behind-the-beat phrasing and ironic interpretation of lyrics. McRae was inspired by Billie Holiday, but she established her own voice. She recorded over sixty albums and performed worldwide.

Stan Getz American jazz saxophonist

Stan Getz was an American jazz saxophonist. Playing primarily the tenor saxophone, Getz was known as "The Sound" because of his warm, lyrical tone, his prime influence being the wispy, mellow timbre of his idol, Lester Young. Coming to prominence in the late 1940s with Woody Herman's big band, Getz is described by critic Scott Yanow as "one of the all-time great tenor saxophonists". Getz performed in bebop and cool jazz groups. Influenced by João Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim, he popularized bossa nova in America with the hit single "The Girl from Ipanema" (1964).

Rankin's rendition of the Beatles' "Blackbird", which he recorded for his Silver Morning album, so impressed Paul McCartney that he asked Rankin to perform it when he and John Lennon were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. [2] His cover of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was chosen by George Harrison's family for his memorial service.[ citation needed ]

Blackbird (Beatles song) original song written and composed by Lennon-McCartney

"Blackbird" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1968 double album The Beatles. The song was written by Paul McCartney, and credited to Lennon–McCartney. Although credited to the group, McCartney is the only Beatle that appears on the track. When discussing the song, McCartney has said that the lyrics were inspired by his hearing the call of a blackbird in Rishikesh, India, and alternatively by the unfortunate state of race relations in the United States in the 1960s.

Paul McCartney English singer-songwriter and composer, bassist of The Beatles

Sir James Paul McCartney is an English singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and composer. He gained worldwide fame as the bass guitarist and singer for the rock band the Beatles, widely considered the most popular and influential group in the history of popular music. His songwriting partnership with John Lennon remains the most successful in history. After the group disbanded in 1970, he pursued a solo career and formed the band Wings with his first wife, Linda, and Denny Laine.

John Lennon English singer and songwriter, founding member of The Beatles

John Winston Ono Lennon was an English singer, songwriter and peace activist who co-founded the Beatles, the most commercially successful band in the history of popular music. He and fellow member Paul McCartney formed a much-celebrated songwriting partnership. Along with George Harrison and Ringo Starr, the group achieved worldwide fame during the 1960s. In 1969, Lennon started the Plastic Ono Band with his second wife, Yoko Ono, and he continued to pursue a solo career following the the Beatles' break-up in April 1970.

Rankin befriended comedian George Carlin; both were signed to the Little David label. Rankin was often the opening act or musical guest for Carlin's live performances beginning in 1972. The two flew in Carlin's private jet. Though Rankin had kicked his drug habit at Phoenix House, touring with Carlin brought him back to using cocaine. [3] Rankin and Carlin toured together off and on for nearly 10 years. Rankin sang at Carlin's memorial service in June 2008.

George Carlin American stand-up comedian

George Denis Patrick Carlin was an American stand-up comedian, actor, author, and social critic. He was known for his black comedy and reflections on politics, the English language, psychology, religion, and various taboo subjects. He and his "seven dirty words" comedy routine were central to the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation, in which a 5–4 decision affirmed the government's power to regulate indecent material on the public airwaves. Widely regarded as one of the most important and influential stand-up comics of all time, Carlin was dubbed by one newspaper to be "the dean of counterculture comedians".

Little David Records

Little David Records was a record label started in 1969 by up-and-coming comedian Flip Wilson and his manager, veteran jazz producer Monte Kay. The label focused mainly on comedy albums, with some jazz and soft rock releases. Little David was independently distributed for its first year but was picked up by Atlantic Records for most of its existence, except for a year under Warner Bros. Records.

Phoenix House is a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization operating in ten states with 150 programs. Programs serve individuals, families, and communities affected by substance abuse and dependency.

He can be heard singing the song "Miles from Here" in the first episode of the television series Fame entitled "Metamorphosis", and "Deep in the Dark" in the Stingray episode "Autumn".

Rankin died of lung cancer on June 7, 2009, three weeks after he was diagnosed with the illness. Writing in The Guardian , after Rankin's death, Adam Sweeting quoted Denny Stilwell, President of Mack Avenue Records, as saying: "At the time of his death he had been preparing new material for recording. "His voice was still in its finest form... He sounded absolutely amazing." [2]


Studio albums

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  1. Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Kenny Rankin". AllMusic. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Sweeting, Adam (10 September 2009). "Kenny Rankin - American singer/songwriter - Obituary". the Guardian. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
  3. Carlin, George; Tony Hendra (2009). Last Words. Free Press. p. 151. ISBN   978-1-4391-7295-7.