Charley Pride, first Black country music superstar, dead at 86 from COVID-19

(DALLAS, TX) — Just weeks after receiving a Country Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award, country music legend Charley Pride has died in Dallas, TX at the age of 86. The cause of death was complications from COVID-19.

The son of a sharecropper, Pride was born in Sledge, Mississippi and rose to become country music’s first Black superstar and the first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

A former pro ball player, he played for several Negro League teams, as well as with the Class C farm team of the New York Yankees and other minor league teams.  After failing tryouts with the California Angels and the New York Mets, he moved to Montana and worked as an iron smelter, while continuing to play local ball.

At the same time, he began singing solo and with local bands.  He also recorded demo tapes, one of which led legendary country artist and producer Chet Atkins to sign him to RCA.  His third single, “Just Between You and Me,” was a hit and earned him a Grammy nod, as well as major bookings.  However, many fans who heard his music didn’t realize that Pride was Black.

At his first big concert, in 1966, he famously walked onstage and the 10,000 fans fell silent.  Pride said later on, “I told the audience: ‘Friends, I realize it’s a little unique, me coming out here with a permanent suntan to sing country and western to you. But that’s the way it is.‘”

Between 1967 and 1987, Pride scored 52 Top 10 country hits, won three Grammys and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and became RCA Records’ top-selling country artist.  The CMA named him its Entertainer of the Year in 1971.

In his memoir, he wrote, “We’re not color blind yet, but we’ve advanced a few paces along the path and I like to think I’ve contributed something to that process.”

Pride’s hits included “Kiss An Angel Good Morning,” “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” “You’re My Jamaica,” “You’re So Good When You’re Bad,” “She’s Just an Old Love Turned Memory,” “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me),” “Someone Loves You Honey,” “Mountain of Love,” and many, many more.

Pride’s final performance was at last month’s Country Music Association Awards.  He sang his signature tune, “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” with Jimmie Allen, a rising Black country star who credits Pride for opening the door for his own country music career.

By Andrea Dresdale
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