'ACM Presents: Our Country': Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan and More Perform Touching Kenny Rogers Tribute

Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie
Kevin Winter/ACMA2012/Getty Images

Some of country's biggest stars came together for a unique special on Sunday night -- and paid tribute to The Gambler.

Country's biggest stars came together for a special night on Sunday, joining together for ACM Presents: Our Country, a series of performances recorded from their homes as the country practices social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The event, hosted by Gayle King, aired in place of the ACM Awards, which were recently postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Sunday's show featured performances from Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani, Shania Twain, Lady Antebellum and more, as well as a star-studded tribute to late country star Kenny Rogers, who died on March 20 at the age of 81.

"Every artist on this program tonight was a friend and a fan. And several of them asked if they could perform some of Kenny Rogers' songs as a tribute to him," King said, introducing the star-studded memorial that served as a finale for the special.

The tribute began with a performance from Brad Paisley and Darius Rucker, who appeared via video chat, and sang Roger's 1977 classic "Lucille," and the iconic 1978 tune "The Gambler."

Before the duet -- which both stars sang separately from their own homes -- Rucker admitted that Rogers was "the reason I'm sittin' here," and his inspiration for creating country music.

Luke Bryan took over from there, performing Roger's emotional 1979 single "Coward of the County" before sharing, "We love you Kenny. Thank you so much for all your musical contributions. I love you, buddy."

Lionel Richie closed out the tribute with a heartfelt reflection on their friendship, which began when Richie wrote Rogers' famous 1980 hit "Lady."

"What stated out to be a great collaboration between two guys, Kenny Rogers and myself, ended up giving me a surprise. Not only did we have a hit record, but I found one of the greatest friends I ever had in my whole life," an emotional Richie shared. "The loss of him is tremendous on my heart."

"We lived so much life together, and tonight I want to celebrate his life. And I want to say to all of his fans: He enjoyed the ride," Richie continued. "Let us celebrate his life, his legacy, and more importantly, the music. God bless you, Kenny. God bless your family. I love you very much."

The tribute ended with flashback to a live performance featuring the two music icons, from the 2012 TV special ACM Presents: Lionel Richie and Friends - In Concert, as they sang "Lady" together to a cheering crowd.

Rogers died on March 20 of natural causes, his family announced on his website and social media platforms.

"In a career that spanned more than six decades, Kenny Rogers left an indelible mark on the history of American music. His songs have endeared music lovers and touched the lives of millions around the world. Chart-topping hits like 'The Gambler,' 'Lady,' 'Islands In The Stream,' 'Lucille,' 'She Believes In Me,' and 'Through the Years' are just a handful of Kenny Rogers' songs that have inspired generations of artists and fans alike," they said in their statement.

The family added at the time that they were currently planning a small private service "out of concern for the national COVID-19 emergency." However, they said they "look forward to celebrating Kenny’s life publicly with his friends and fans at a later date."

King spoke to ET about the Our Country special on Friday, noting how she thinks it reflects how country musicians are some of the “kindest, most humble, nicest, most generous” people, and how the current health crisis reminds us that “we’re all in this together.”

“You hear it so much it almost becomes cliché, but it's not, because not only are we all in this together, we really need each other,” she said. “We really do need each other to survive."

ACM Presents: Our Country airs on Sunday April 5 at 8 p.m. PT/ET/7 p.m. CT on CBS and also streams on CBS All Access for subscribers -- you can sign up here for that. You can also watch on Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV and AT&T Now if you're a subscriber to one of those services, all of which offer a 7-day free trial.

See more on the special in the video below.