Charley Pride, a son of sharecroppers who became the first black country music superstar due to hits like “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin” and “Is Anybody Goin ‘to San Antone,” died Saturday at the Dallas hospice. He was 86 years old.
Jeremy Westby, a Mr. Pride publicist, said the cause was complications from Covid-19.
Mr. Pride wasn’t the first black artist to record country music, but none of his predecessors came close to the success he enjoyed. In 1971, just four years after his first hits, he won the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year award – the genre’s highest honor.
Mr. Pride was born in Sledge, Miss., March 18, 1934, to Tessie Stewart Pride and Mack Pride Sr. He served in the Army before moving to Montana to try and make it as a baseball player. He worked at a smelter and played semi-professional baseball in East Helena, where he was paid $ 10 to sing the national anthem before the games, he told Montana Sports that year.
Mr. Pride, who grew up listening to Grand Ole Opry radio concerts, was spotted in a Montana bar singing Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues.”
He began his music career in 1963; Two years later, he signed a contract with RCA Records, which commuted between Montana and Nashville, before finally moving full-time into the center of country music.
In 1967, his recording of “Just Between You and Me” became a top 10 hit on Billboard’s country music charts. Only then did he quit his smelting job.
Last month in Nashville, Mr. Pride received the Country Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Jimmie Allen, a young black country star. It was his last public performance.
The event organizers said they “followed all protocols” to deal with Covid-19, but some in attendance did not wear masks.
He had previously received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2017 and was named Male Singer of the Year by the Country Music Association in 1971 and 1972.
In the 20 years after his 1967 breakout hit, 51 more Mr. Pride records reached the country’s top 10 – 29 of them reached # 1 – and opened doors for other black country music stars like Darius Rucker, who co-hosted this year’s CMA Awards. “No person of color had ever done what they did,” Rucker said in a 2019 PBS documentary of Mr. Pride.
Mr. Pride himself wrote in his treatise Pride: The Charley Pride Story (1994): “We are not colorblind yet, but we are a few steps along the way, and I like to think I have contributed to the process . “
Although Mr. Pride has faced racism in the industry – singer Loretta Lynn was instructed not to hug him at an awards show in the 1970s, should he win the award she presented – he was greeted by many of his white counterparts in the country -Music as the star he had become. (He won the award and Ms. Lynn not only hugged him, but kissed him too.)
When it became known that Mr. Pride was Black, many radio stations refused to play his music. But Faron Young, a white country music star, came to Mr. Pride’s defense and told a broadcaster manager, “If he takes Charley Pride off, take off all of my records.”
Dolly Parton said Saturday she was “broken that one of my dearest and oldest friends, Charley Pride, passed away”.
“It’s even worse knowing he passed away from COVID-19,” she added on Twitter. “What a terrible, terrible virus.”
Former President George W. Bush remembered Mr. Pride as “a good gentleman with a great voice” and said in a statement, “Laura and I love his music and the spirit behind it.”
Mr. Pride is survived by his wife Ebby Rozene Cohran Pride and children Carlton, Charles and Angela.
A full obituary is imminent.