Rankin was raised in New York and was introduced to music by his mother, who sang at home and for friends. Early in his career he worked as a singer-songwriter, and developed a considerable following during the 70s with a steady flow of albums, three of which broke into the Top 100 of the Billboard Album Chart. His liking for jazz was evident from an early age, but the times were such that in order to survive his career had to take a more pop-oriented course. By the 90s, however, he was able to angle his repertoire to accommodate his own musical preferences and to please a new audience while still keeping faith with the faithful. Rankin's warm singing style and his soft, nylon-stringed guitar sound might suggest an artist more attuned to the supper-club circuit than the jazz arena, but his work contains many touches that appeal to the jazz audience.Rankin appeared on The Tonight Show
more than twenty times. Host Johnny Carson was so impressed by him that he wrote the liner notes to Rankin's 1967 debut album Mind Dusters,
which featured the single "Peaceful." Kenny's friend Helen Reddy would reach #2 Adult Contemporary and #12 Pop in 1973 with a cover of it, released as her follow-up single to "I Am Woman". Georgie Fame also had a hit with this song in 1969, Rankin's only songwriting credit to hit the British charts, reaching number sixteen and spending 9 weeks on the chart.Rankin's accompanists from time to time included Alan Broadbent, Mike Wofford and Bill Watrous, and on such occasions the mood slips easily into a jazz groove. His compositions have been performed by artists such as Mel Tormé and Carmen McRae, while Stan Getz said of him that he was "a horn with a heartbeat". Rankin was deeply interested in Brazilian music and his Here In My Heart,
on which he used jazz guests including Michael Brecker and Ernie Watts, was recorded mostly in Rio de Janeiro. More contemporary songs were given an airing following his move to Verve Records, including the Beatles' "I've Just Seen A Face" and Leon Russell's "A Song For You."Rankin's own unique gift for reworking classic songs such as The Beatles' "Blackbird," which he recorded for his Silver Morning
album, so impressed Paul McCartney that he asked Rankin to perform his interpretation of the song when McCartney and John Lennon were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.Rankin was lifelong friends with Comedian George Carlin. On Saturday, November 4, 1972, Kenny Rankin performed live on Broadway, at Manhattan's Palace Theatre as the opening act for The George Carlin Show. Tickets cost $6.75. "Just so you know, it was me that opened up the show. I toured with my dear friend George for nearly ten years. I will miss my most kind and generous friend. Peace ~ Kenny"
They toured together off and on for nearly 10 years and later, Rankin sang at Carlin's Memorial Service (June 2008) before dying of cancer almost exactly one year later in June 2009.He can be heard singing the song "Miles From Here" in the first episode of the television series Fame titled "Metamorphosis".