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Saturday, October 12, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Gamble Rogers, Minstrel, Drowns

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

MIAMI - Folk singer and storyteller Gamble Rogers drowned Thursday in the Atlantic Ocean at Flagler Beach as he tried to rescue a Canadian tourist, Raymond Tracey of Ontario, caught in the undertow. Tracey, 48, also drowned.

Rogers, 53, a folk singer, teller of tall tales and modern-day minstrel, has been mentioned in the same breath with Pete Seeger, Mark Twain and Will Rogers. An admirer once said he was "worthy of inclusion in the Smithsonian."

"Gamble died as he lived, giving to people," said Ken Crawford, who worked with Rogers on a monthly folk-music series in Stuart, Fla.

Rogers had been vacationing at Flagler Beach State Recreation Area with his wife, Nancy, taking a break from a tour that began in June and from Georgia to Texas to Pennsylvania.

Born James Gamble Rogers III, he grew up in Winter Park, Fla., and began performing in his teens.

In the late 1950s, Rogers played guitar with a folk band, the Serendipity Singers, for two years. "He went to New York, and within two days his parents were seeing him on the Today show," said Doug Gauss, who first met Rogers at a concert in 1964.

Later, Rogers threw in stories between songs until the songs became punctuation to his tall tales.

Most were in a mode he called "Southern Gothic storytelling," spinning tall tales about "Oklawaha County," a fictitious place in backwoods Florida. Rogers once claimed that all his stories were true "except for a few that are obvious whimsy. The characters may tend to be outlandish, but their statements resonate with a certain amount of horse sense."

Over the years, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Rogers also played Carnegie Hall a few years back, in a tribute to American-style guitar playing. He was also a longtime commentator on National Public Radio, home to Midwestern humorist Garrison Keillor, with whom he was often compared.

Rogers toured the United States and Canada, from the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, Tenn., to the Philadelphia Folk Festival. His home was in St. Augustine, Fla.

Rogers is survived by his wife, Nancy; his mother, Evelyn Rogers; a daughter, Elizabeth Lacey; and a brother, John Rogers.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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