In a remarkable recording career that spans three and a half decades, Kenny Rankin has established an impressive set of creative credentials, as an insightful songwriter, a distinctive guitarist and, above all, a world-class singer possessing an uncanny ability to cut straight to a song's emotional heart.
While his supple, pristine tenor has earned him status as a singer's singer, Rankin's songwriting talents have been widely recognized by his peers. For example, his In the Name of Love inspired a memorable version by Peggy Lee, while his Haven't We Met has been cut by a number of jazz and pop artists including Carmen McRae and Mel Torme. Other Rankin compositions have been covered by a diverse assortment of artists.
Growing up in the multicultural hotbed of New York's Washington Heights neighborhood, he absorbed a broad array of musical influences, from AfroCuban to Top 40 to Jazz to Brazilian. But he traces his emergence as a performer to a specific childhood epiphany. I was in the fourth grade and sang 'O Holy Night' in a Christmas play, he recalls. My teacher, Miss Isabel Pringle, came over to me and patted me on the head and said 'Kenneth, that was lovely.' She set me on the path in music that I find myself on today.
As a teenager, the budding artist signed with Decca Records and released a handful of singles. A few years later, he signed with Columbia Records, and found himself playing guitar on Bob Dylan's landmark 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home. Not long after, he performed on The Tonight Show, whose host Johnny Carson became such a fan that Kenny was ultimately invited to appear on the show more than 20 times. Carson even contributed liner notes to Rankin's 1967 debut LP Mind Dusters, which introduced his much-covered pop standard Peaceful. That album's mix of original tunes and outside material would continue to yield rewarding results on such subsequent releases as Family, Like a Seed, and Inside.