Kenny Gordon, Grand Rapids singer and producer of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ passed away at 80
We lost Kenny Gordon this Sunday morning March 8, 2015 at 1am to bone cancer. Kenny was a local boy from Central High School. Kenny has a long history of music, he did 564 performances of Jesus Christ Superstar, which premiered in Grand Rapids with the Sound Gathering. positivelymichigan.net is working on a short tribute video to Kenny.
By: Dan Salas
Two summers ago, Kenny Gordon graciously agreed to allow me to come to his home for an interview about his amazing career. I was there with him and his wife for about four hours, and we could have talked longer, because we were both having fun discussing his career. I am grateful for the time he spent with me that day.
It was a nice sunny day, and Kenny and I talked about too much to put into words right at this moment. As we were conversed, we also made CD copies of his albums and of unreleased tapes that he had made over the course of his career, so that I could hear the full range of his music.
At that time he was very excited about staging staff talent show competitions between local hospitals. I am not going to pretend that I knew him well at that time, but he made me feel like we were old friends. I could tell that he treated everyone that way. His emails were always concluded with “love, Kenny.”
I came away from our time together with a sense that Kenny had always loved to arrange theatrical musical productions, and that he was from a generation of performers who had learned elements of show business and theatrics, including music. I do know that he was a singer at the Ramona Theater when he was a youngster, and that he sang parts for the Civic Light Operas in the early 1950s. Singer Ann Godfrey recalls: “During one rehearsal Eric Weaver asked Kenny Gordon to sing one of the lead parts, for “The Student Prince.” After he finished, all of us clapped for a long time because we could not believe what a beautiful voice he had!”
Kenny Gordon: “Eric Weaver also produced my first record, “The Great Beginning.” DJ Bud Lindeman made that a hit record on WGRD for me. I was 17 when I did that record. It was done is a studio in Chicago.”
These are some brief details concerning his early career, and he went on to perform and produce so many shows and nightclub gigs that are memorable and legendary. I just wanted to offer a few words about Kenny at this time of his passing. The outpouring of memories and love toward him and his family is wonderful. Kenny freely confided to me that his life had changed for the best, and he was radiant about his relationship with the Lord. He was not healthy at the time we met at his home, but he was still working hard, as usual, on his latest production.
By: Kim Rush
Here are some Facebook postings concerning Kenny’s passing…. from his friends…. which say more far more meaningful things about him than I can offer:
Dick Beatty: R.I.P. Kenny Gordon Thank you for all the Music you have performed from the 60’s to now. You are a music legend in this town and will not be forgotten. Play on my friend. Dick Beatty ..Good bye my friend
Anna Arzumanova Kenny, u were an amazing man and a great friend, with full of great advice. May u rest in peace, in heaven… Sad we didn’t get a chance to chat one last time, but glad ur in a great place…We will all miss u greatly!!!!
Dave Miller Kenny Gordon was a sincere and wonderful friend and I already miss having coffee with you Bro
James Cannon ——A SAD DAY——-A TALENT—–NOW TO BE MISSED
Keith Seccombe Very sad! I just heard my dear old friend Kenny passed away. We had been talking in recent times about him planning on restaging his show, Today is a Good Day to Die. The photos are from a talent show I had the pleasure of doing with him last year. Kenny I know you will enjoy performing for the man upstairs, see you later mate!!!
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Carol Pleune-VanderWoude Oh, you’re kidding! He was a wonderful performer. So sad to hear that, but he was a Christian and now is with the Lord.
Julia Sullivan Cook Very sad to hear. truly one of a kind
Dave Miller Kenny Gordon was a sincere and wonderful friend and I already miss having coffee with you Bro
Aris Hampers: RIP to a true ‘Local Legend’ Kenny Gordon. One of the earliest pioneers of Local Music here in Grand Rapids. In the 60’s ‘Kenny And The Big Band Sound Of Bobby Charles’ toured nationwide including many dates in Canada to rave reviews.
I was lucky to share the stage with him in 1971 for two ‘sold-out’ under the radar performances at the Welsh Auditorium of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ to 7600 people. The true definition of a ‘Class Act’.
Keep ‘playing’ Kenny. I’ll see you on the other side and we’ll jam hard sometime soon.
Michael Packer Just saw him perform a 3 or 4 years ago….
David Clelland Kenny was also a major league practical joker. He once knocked me off my stool with a pie in the face during a solo at the Tiki Lounge! He was a loveable guy, a true showman and Grand Rapids entertainment icon.
Cindy Saurman I saw one of those shows in 71.. R.I.P. Kenny Gordon
Richard B. Kelley I was in the boat biz with him for years. The guy could S-I-N-G-!
Stephen Aldrich What was the name of the place on the south side of the Holland channel, big dinner club, we had a little jazz 4tet in the bar, KG had his show in the big room, would come by and wave his cigar in our direction, sent us drinks if he was in a good mood.
Richard B. Kelley Kenny’d been in a supper club sort of rock opera about Native Americans circa 1970-71. Apparently it pre-dated his Superstar run. Ms. Sarafis was in it as well if memory serves. Anyway, a few years back he discovered there was a decent (though not great) recording of one of the performances. He brought it around wondering if we should package it up and market it
Mitch Mileski Point West? Summertime he had an extended engagement at Mr. Presidents doing JCS. My parents had the four of us in jackets and ties for dinner and show. We were Seated at the closest table to the stage Kenny had a look that was probably the closest thing in GR to Wayne Cochran. Guess I was thirteen and it was pretty cool even if it wasn’t Alice, MC5 or whatever.
Stephen Aldrich Point West indeed, thanx, we were there for a summer…
David Clelland The Native American saga was called Today is a Good Day to Die. They were doing it in Valparaiso Indiana in ’71. I was playing at the Stone Balloon down the street and they would all come in after their show. Lots of fun, those nights were….
Frank Warrick? Rest in peace my friend. I will always treasure the memories of the many gigs we worked together with your big band. You and Charlie were a big part of what made the “good old days” good for me. God bless you!
Mark Dehlman? Kenny I will miss you and your wisdom. I learned a valuable lesson from you and still practice it in all my affairs… STFU and listen has helped me in more ways than one.
God Bless you and your family.
Steve Doc Yankee? Awwwww…. sad news. RIP, Kenny.
Michael S. Doyle R.I.P. Sir Kenny Gordon. All the best to you on your new journey !!!
Michael Simpson R.I.P. my good friend. You were a music icon in Grand Rapids and you will be missed. Keep on putting shows together in Heaven. You always would say love ya and now from all of us we love you. Cheers
Greg Poltrock RIP, Kenny. We’ll have a Sound Gathering in the days to come.
Almost from the beginning of this website I have been in contact with Kenny and to be really honest, he would actually get me excited for what I was doing. I do think life itself was fun for him, as he would tackle everything he did with a certain attitude to make it better. He loaded us up with a lot of photos from his long and illustrious career, which I’m not certain I have posted all of them, as I like to only post photos that have captions on them. He certainly was an organized person, as whenever we talked he would talk dates and who was in the band, or production at the time, etc.
I remember seeing one of his Rock Opera’s while I was a bartender at the Mr. President’s Inn in the 70s and I was working the service bar were you couldn’t see the stage and I kept getting in trouble with my boss, because every chance I got I would leave the bar to peek around the corner to watch the production. Then in 2012 we started having website board meetings at the Copper Top Bar, which were just an excuse to have monthly meetings for all of West Michigan’s Musicians and I invited Kenny and his wife. The day was special as I think about 50 of some of the best musicians from the area showed up along with Kenny who I got to meet. I think we had 8 drummers show up, one was a female from The 6 Pack. I didn’t get much time to talk to Kenny, because everybody seemed to want to talk to him too, but I had a few conversations on the phone after that day and they was always fun, just because he was a fun person to be around.
After starting this website and a few conversations with Kenny, we drifted into conversations other than music, where we found we had a mutual group of famous people in the elite world of offshore power boat racing in common. I had designed and manufactured 2-way radio systems for professional race teams throughout the U.S. and along those roads I also designed high noise level intercoms for most of the world class offshore power boats that were out there during part of my 25 year career. In 1981, I helped put on the Coral Gables APBA Offshore Challenge Cup and the Northport 200 in 1983. What most people don’t know about Kenny is that he had a second Love and that was expensive powerboats where he also made a living as a salesman in the elite powerboat business.
After a successful music career he worked in the marine business and in 1992 he created and produced the ‘The Thunder Marine Poker Run’ for high performance boats and it became the largest and most successful in marine history at that time on Lake Michigan. It was run from Muskegon to St. Joseph as a Poker Run Fun Event and Kenny invited everybody who was anybody in the offshore powerboat racing business, including race legend Reggie Fountain who come with one of his super boats to show off. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLIoE7KiyVQ Kenny sure wasn’t afraid to tackle big tasks, as he knew there were good rewards at the end of the road.
By: Doug Taylor
Meet Kenny Gordon
Kenny Gordon is a Grand Rapids hometown boy who graduated from Central High School. He started his music career in civic theater and area night clubs. In the 60’s Kenny and the Big Band Sound of Bobby Charles toured the country and Canada playing the top night spots. In the 70’s Kenny formed ‘The Sound Gathering’ and did their production of Jesus Christ Superstar, premiered in Grand Rapids and then went on to do 564 hit performances in the US, Bahamas and Canada, where the critics gave it rave reviews. In 1971 Kenny commissioned the rock opera “Today is a Good Day to Die” and Playboy Inc. bought it for the Playboy Plaza Hotel in Miami Beach where it became the hit of the season. After a successful music career he worked in the marine business where he created and produced the ‘The Thunder Marine Poker Run’ for high performance boats and it became the largest and most successful in marine history. Kenny has employed or worked with the Great Musicians this Web Site will display, we all hope you LIKE, then LOVE IT. Let us Know!!!!!