Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Kenny Roberts Remembered

May 2, 2012
Kenny Roberts,  October 14,1926 - April 29, 2012: R.I.P.
The King of the Yodelers is gone.
George S. Kingsbury Jr., 85, known as "Kenny Roberts, King of the Yodelers," died Sunday, April 29, 2012 at Athol (MA) Memorial Hospital.

Starting in 2005, my spouse Marti and I began hosting a country roots show at WHUS called Red Rooster Party.  The show was great fun to do and provided a great education for folks interested in early American recorded music, though it was really Marti and me getting the education.  The show ended in 2009 because we ran out of the free time necessary to do the research required by the show.
One of the great things to come from Red Rooster Party was learning about Kenny Roberts.  A listener (thank you, Frank Jenkins) brought me a 1946 Vogue 78 picture disc of The Down Homers, a group that spent some time on radio in Hartford in the 1940s, and one side of the disc was an amazing yodeler named Kenny Roberts doing a yodeling song called "Out Where The West Winds Blow."  The song floored me because of the sheer power and perfection of the yodeling, the likes of which I had never heard before.   That sent me on a mission to learn more about Kenny Roberts.

I was surprised and delighted to discover that Kenny Roberts was still around, and living in Athol, Massachusetts.  I came across an e-mail address and sent him a note which he answered almost immediately.  Kenny was a great source for his own recordings, and I ordered everything he had which he dutifully sent me.  From that point on Kenny preferred to correspond via telephone or snail mail, and for that I am grateful because I now have all those letters as souvenirs.

I soon asked Kenny if he would join us on the air for one of our broadcasts, and he accepted.  The day was October 29, 2006, just a couple of weeks after Kenny's 80th birthday.  Kenny gave us one of the best interviews we have ever had, either before or since.  He was very upbeat and eager to discuss his long career in music and television, his wife Bettyanne adding commentary in the background from time-to-time.  He even did a little live yodeling for us.

We re-played the interview on the show a couple of years later, and Kenny joined us live once more on that show at the end of the original interview.  Kenny was still very generous with his time, but it was evident that he was sounding a bit frail compared to the original interview two years earlier.  We hoped his health was okay.

Kenny called me not long afterwards.  The Connecticut Country Music Association had informed Kenny they were inducting him into their Hall of Fame that winter and Kenny had a conflict that prevented his attendance.  Kenny asked if I would attend and accept the honor on his behalf.  I immediately accepted.

I recall taking that original Kenny Roberts Vogue 78 picture disc with me and showing it to the attendees when I accepted Kenny's award.  I ended up mailing his award to him, wishing I had the time to take it to him personally.

I found out this afternoon that Kenny had died in his hometown of Athol on April 29, 2012, the same day I had been on the air hosting "Bluegrass Cafe."  This news affected me far more than I expected.  Kenny had become a friend, and I had come to respect him far beyond the amazement I had initially experienced when I had heard his recordings.  Kenny was a classic entertainer who gave every consideration possible to his fans.  He encouraged friends and fans to contact him until the point he was no longer with us.

A service with military honors was held Friday, May 4, 2012 at the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Winchendon.

My heart goes out to Bettyanne Roberts and all their children.  Godspeed, Kenny.

Jim Beaver

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