Kenny Rankin, R.I.P.

Acclaimed singer-songwriter and guitarist Kenny Rankin died on June 7, at the age of 69, following complications related to lung cancer.


Acclaimed singer-songwriter and guitarist Kenny Rankin died on June 7, at the age of 69, following complications related to lung cancer. Rankin’s musical style ranged from folk to jazz, and at times featured a strong world music influence. As a teenager, Rankin was signed to Decca Records. A move to Columbia records led him to be drafted into Bob Dylan’s studio band — Rankin’s guitar can be heard on the 1965 Bringing it All Back Home album.

Rankin’s hit songs for others include “Peaceful,” recorded by Helen Reddy, “In the Name of Love,” done by Peggy Lee, and “Haven’t We Met,” which was a hit for Carmen McRae and Mel Torme. Johnny Carson was a fan of Rankin’s work (Rankin appeared on The Tonight Show some twenty times) and penned the liner notes to his 1968 album Mind Dusters. Rankin’s cover of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” was a favorite of Paul McCartney’s; he asked Rankin to perform it when he and Lennon were inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

“My interpretation of the songs is purely emotional,” Rankin once said. “We’ve all experienced disappointment and heartache, and that’s what I draw upon. When I sing ‘A Song for You’ and ‘Where Do You Start?’ or ‘She Was Too Good to Me,’ I’m really hurting for the people in the song. I never change lyrics, because when I select a song it’s usually because of how the lyric impacts me. I’ve been accused of straying from the melody, but when I sing I’m feeling, not thinking.”

“That he was still at the top of his game is one of the saddest parts of his passing for me,” Denny Stilwell, president of Mack Avenue Records, said in a statement. “He performed the new material in our office over the last few months and his voice was still in its finest form – he sounded absolutely amazing. Our hearts and prayers are with his family.”


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