On earlier concert visits to Baltimore, singer Kenny Rogers asked spectators to bring along canned food for the needy. This weekend, his latest benefit performance aims at raising funds for continuing research into the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
"It's something that helps justify my success," says Mr. Rogers of his regular involvement in such charitable activities.
The singer/actor will appear at the Baltimore Arena Sunday in the fifth annual "Lifesongs '92" fund-raiser, which has moved from its previous venue of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to the larger, 13,000-seat arena.
"I've drawn that many in some cities. I don't know if I can in Baltimore, but I'm willing to try," said Mr. Rogers in a telephone interview from his 1,200-acre farm home near Athens, Ga.
"You can't do too much about this issue. Knowledge of this subject is primary," he said, adding, "It's the kind of thing I'm more concerned about Cris [his son] and his kids, because of its future impact."
In previous years, Lifesongs has featured Ben Vereen, Marvin Hamlisch, Roberta Flack, Michael Feinstein and George Burns, annually selling out the Meyerhoff's 2,500 seats to raise more than $500,000.
The funds benefit a variety of organizations involved in the AIDS issue, including the Health Education Resources Organization (HERO), Care Consultants, AIDS Action Baltimore, the Chase-Brexton Clinic, the University of Maryland Pediatric AIDS clinic and AIRS-Don Miller House.
Mr. Rogers' said his appearance here precedes his beginning work on a new western movie, "El Diablo."
"As you can tell from the title, I play for the first time in my career a character who has no socially redeeming values," laughed Mr. Rogers. His hit song "The Gambler" has been parlayed into a series of four [so far] TV movies, which have established him as a quintessential western figure.
For example, he recently finished work narrating a cable television documentary series, "The Real West," to be seen on the Arts & Entertainment network beginning Thursday. And in doing the series, the Houston native said he even learned some things about the Alamo, the principal tourist shrine of Texas (in San Antonio).
Mr. Rogers traces his readiness to perform in charitable concerts such as Lifesongs to his Texas upbringing.
"I came from a family of need, and it's nice to be able to give something back," he said, noting he was raised with seven brothers and sisters in public housing projects.
While no longer asking fans to bring canned goods to concerts, he noted, "We raised about 2 million pounds of food" from the effort.
The multiple Grammy-winner and his wife, Marianne, also sponsored for five years the World Hunger Media Awards, and a 50th birthday party for the singer in 1988 raised money for the World Hunger Year organization founded by the late singer Harry Chapin.
Mr. Rogers said his movie schedule this month has prevented a 1992 edition of another big fund-raiser, the Kenny Rogers/JC Penney Classic Weekend. The 3-year-old televised event featured a variety of sports and entertainment celebrities and centered upon a golf tournament at the 18-hole course Mr. Rogers built at his Beaver Dam Farms.
Funds from earlier stagings of that event have helped the homeless in Athens.
"That was one of the most fun things I've ever done in my life," said the singer.
Also on the Lifesongs bill this weekend, warming up the crowd for the headliner, is comedian Andy Andrews. He has performed previously with Mr. Rogers, as well as Joan Rivers, Randy Travis, Dolly Parton and Cher, and appeared at the request of President Bush in the "Drug Free America" TV special.
What: "Lifesongs '92."
When: Sunday 6:30 p.m.
Where: Baltimore Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St.
Tickets: $18 to $100.
Call: (410) 653-5520.