When Kenny Rodgers met Dolly Parton, the legendary singers collaborated on a number of hit songs. At the time, fans speculated on whether they would become romantically involved – but more than three decades later, the duo explained why this would never happen.
Both of the iconic vocalists were at the height of their solo careers when they met to collaborate on the hit single, Islands in the Stream, in 1983.
Rogers was 45 and Parton was 37 when they recorded the country duet, which had been written by pop group the Bee Gees, alias Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb.
Rogers and Parton were no strangers to solo chart-topping success at the time. Parton had been a recording artist since the age of 13, when she released her first single, Puppy Love, in 1959, on Goldband Records.
Her first number one single in the US country chart was Joshua in 1970 and she had gone on to enjoy further chart-topping hits with Jolene in 1973, Love is Like a Butterfly in 1974, and many more.
Rogers released his first single, That Crazy Feeling, in 1958. He had enjoyed his first chart success in the US Hot 100 in 1975, with Love Lifted Me. Charting in Europe, New Zealand and Canada, his first number one hit was Lady in 1980, which was certified gold in the US.
When the duo collaborated on Islands in the Stream, they set a new standard for country music duets. Rogers had been singing the song in the studio, but it didn’t feel right, so he had tracked down Parton to turn it into a duet.
It shot to the top of the charts across the world in August 1983, after being released from Rogers’ album, Eyes That See in the Dark.
Islands in the Stream won the American Music Awards’ favourite country single award in 1984. It knocked the massive hit single, Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, off the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in America.
Certified platinum in the US, it sold more than two million copies and remains a best-seller to this day, as it was made available for download – to date, it has sold an additional 834,000 digital copies, as of January 2019.
Although both Parton and Rogers were already superstars, Islands in the Stream boosted both their careers and led to them recording other hit singles together – including Real Love, You Can’t Make Old Friends and Love is Strange. They also did a Christmas album.
Parton and Rogers seemed to strike up a good rapport, leading to fans’ speculation that they may be having a romantic relationship. However, this wasn’t the case, although they never said anything about it publicly, until they gave a joint interview in 2017 – more than 30 years after their first hit single together.
In 2017, after Rogers announced his retirement from live performances, he gave a farewell concert in Nashville, when Parton took to the stage with him one final time to sing their duet. During their media interview, they touched upon their relationship and explained some of the reasons why it had remained strictly professional.
Asked why they never became a real-life couple when they made such beautiful music together, Parton joked that she wasn’t Rogers’ type, while he said, laughingly, how he found her “hard to look at”! In reality, they were more like brother and sister, according to Parton. She said because of this, they never went down the road of having a romantic relationship, because it wouldn’t have felt right.
Rogers admitted there was a chemistry between them, but said it was better to keep the “tension” there, rather than succumbing to it. He joked, “Secondly, she said no to me!”
Parton agreed there was “something about their chemistry with each other” that made the song work. Rogers added that what made their combination so good was their friendship and the fact they had “teased” each other for 30 years. He said they were both married to other partners, but wanted to make sure that people felt their great friendship.
Rogers, now aged 80, is married to Wanda Miller and the couple have two children, while Dolly, 73, has been married to Carl Dean since 1966.
Dolly continues to perform and has recently teamed up with the vocalist Sia on the single, Here I Am. It is part of the soundtrack of Jennifer Aniston’s latest film, Dumplin’, about a beauty pageant contestant, which was released on Netflix in 2018. Rogers officially retired from the music industry in 2017.
The two singers have remained good friends over the years, despite their relationship never blossoming into a romance.
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