Trailblazing Black country singer Charley Pride, winner of 3 Grammys from 30 No. 1 hits, succumbs to COVID-19 complications
Free Press wire reports | 12/17/2020, 6 p.m.
NEW YORK - Charley Pride, one of country music’s first Black superstars whose rich baritone on such hits as “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” helped sell millions of records and made him the first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, has died. He was 86.
Mr. Pride died Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Dallas of complications from COVID-19, according to Jeremy West by of the public relations firm 2911 Media.
“I’m so heartbroken that one of my dearest and oldest friends, Charley Pride, has passed away. It’s even worse to know that he passed away from COVID-19. What a horrible, horrible virus. Charley, we will always love you,” Dolly Parton tweeted.
CMT aired a special tribute to Mr. Pride, “CMT Remembers Charley Pride,” on, Dec. 16, featuring interviews, performances and remembrances from Mr. Pride, his family and other country music stars.
Mr. Pride released dozens of albums and sold more than 25 million records during a career that began in the mid-1960s. Hits besides “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” in 1971 included “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” “Burgers and Fries,” “Mountain of Love,” and “Someone Loves You Honey.”
He had three Grammy Awards, more than 30 No. 1 hits between 1969 and 1984, won the Country Music Association’s Top Male Vocalist and Entertainer of the Year awards in 1972 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000. He won the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award last month from the Country Music Association.
“He destroyed barriers and did things that no one had ever done,” said Darius Rucker on Twitter. “Heaven just got one of the finest people I know.”
The Smithsonian in Washington acquired memorabilia from Mr. Pride, including a pair of boots and one of his guitars, for the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Other Black country stars came before Mr. Pride, namely DeFord Bailey, who was an Grand Ole Opry member between 1927 and 1941. But until the early 1990s, when Cleve Francis came along, Mr. Pride was the only Black country singer signed to a major label. In 1993, he joined the Opry cast in Nashville.
“They used to ask me how it feels to be the ‘first colored country singer,’ ” he told The Dallas Morning News in 1992. “Then it was ‘first Negro country singer;’ then ‘first Black country singer.’ Now I’m the ‘first African-American country singer.’ That’s about the only thing that’s changed. This country is so race-conscious, so ate up with colors and pigments. I call it ‘skin hang ups’ — it’s a disease.”
Mr. Pride was raised in Sledge, Miss., the son of a sharecropper. He had seven brothers and three sisters. As a young man before launching his singing career, he was a pitcher and outfielder in the Negro American League with the Memphis Red Sox and in the Pioneer League in Montana.
After playing minor league baseball a couple of years, he moved to Helena, Mont., where he worked in a zinc smelting plant by day and played country music in nightclubs at night.
Mr. Pride also was part of the Texas Rangers’ ownership group for the last 10 years. The team flew the flags at half-staff at Globe Life Field and Globe Life Park on Sunday and Monday in his memory.
After a tryout with the New York Mets, Mr. Pride visited Nashville and broke into country music when Chet Atkins, head of RCA Records, heard two of his demo tapes and signed him.
To ensure that Mr. Pride was judged on his music and not his race, his first few singles were sent to radio stations without a publicity photo. After his identity became known, a few country radio stations refused to play his music.
For the most part, though, Mr. Pride said he was well received. Early in his career, he would put white audiences at ease when he joked about his “permanent tan.”
“Music is the greatest communicator on the planet Earth,” he said in 1992. “Once people heard the sincerity in my voice and heard me project and watched my delivery, it just dissipated any apprehension or bad feeling they might have had.”
Throughout his career, he sang positive songs instead of sad ones often associated with country music.
“Music is a beautiful way of expressing oneself and I truly believe music should not be taken as a protest,” he told The Associated Press in 1985. “You can go too far in anything — singing, acting, whatever — and become politicized to the point you cease to be an entertainer.”
In 1994, he wrote his autobiography, “Pride: The Charley Pride Story,” in which he disclosed he was mildly manic depressive. He had surgery in 1997 to remove a tumor from his right vocal cord.
“Charley Pride was a trail blazer whose remarkable voice & generous spirit broke down barriers in country music just as his hero Jackie Robinson had in baseball,” tweeted director and producer Ken Burns.
He is survived by his wife, Rozene, whom he married in 1956; three children, Kraig, Dion and Angela; and several grandchildren.
A private wake and memorial will be held in Dallas this week, with future plans for a public celebration of his life at a later date.