Famed singing cowboy yodeler, Kenny Roberts died yesterday at his home in Athol, Mass. He was 85.
A noted country music performer for more than 65 years, Roberts was known as "America's King of the Yodelers" for his trademark performance style.
Roberts was the father of entertainment industry agents Bobby Roberts (CEO of the Bobby Roberts Company) and Jeff Roberts (CEO of Jeff Roberts and Associates), both based in Nashville. Survivors include nine children, 19 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.
"At this time I just think about my childhood memories with my Dad and how he influenced my music career," says Bobby Roberts, whose agency books such artists as Merle Haggard, John Anderson and Ray Price. "He left his mark as an entertainer and on the art of yodeling."
Kenny Roberts was born in Lenoir City, Tenn., but raised on a farm outside of Greenfield, MA. He started in music at the age of 11, when he organized a band consisting entirely of young harmonica players. Later, he mastered guitar, bass and fiddle, and was inspired by Yodeling Slim Clark, Jimmie Rodgers and other singing cowboys.
Roberts learned to yodel and at the age of 17, won a New Hampshire radio contest to be chosen as "Eastern States Yodeling Champion" in 1944. After serving in the Navy in World War II, he performed on on radio station KMOX in St. Louis, as well as the CBS Saturday morning show "Barnyard Frolics," then organized and led a Pennsylvania-based western swing band called the Down Homers, recording for Vogue Records.
Rock and roll pioneer Bill Haley joined the band in 1946 as a guitarist and yodeler. Roberts signed a recording contract with Coral Records in 1949, a division of Decca. His most popular recordings included "I Never See Maggie Alone," "River of Tears," "I've Got the Blues," "Yodel Polka," "She Taught Me to Yodel," and "Hillbilly Style." Roberts starred in a children's TV show in 1953, performing in Cincinnati on WLW-TV, and he performed on Arthur Godfrey's CBS network talent program. He later performed on the Midwestern Hayride during the 1950s from Cincinnati. He became a regional star through television shows in Dayton, Ohio and Indianapolis, Ind.
In 1961, Roberts began a daily cartoon show on WNEM TV-5 in Saginaw, Mich., as "The Kenny Roberts Show" where he was known as "The Yodeling Cowboy."