A country music hitmaker and trailblazer whose career spanned six decades, Charley Pride has passed away at age 86 due to complications of COVID-19.
The genre’s first Black superstar, Pride was a member of the Grand Ole Opry, inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and charted 67 singles during the course of his career, including 29 No. 1 hits between 1969 and 1983.
Pride was born in Mississippi, the son of sharecroppers, in 1934. As a teenager, he picked cotton until earning enough money to buy his first guitar. After a brief career playing professional baseball in the Negro American League followed by a stint in the Army, Pride was working as a smelting plant in Helena, Montana in 1962 when country stars Red Foley and Red Sovine heard him singing a Hank Williams song. At their urging, he headed to Nashville in search of stardom.
As a Black performer in Nashville during the early 1960s, Pride’s career was slowed by racism until some of his demos made their way to rockabilly legend Chet Atkins, who was then head of RCA Records’ country division, and signed Pride in 1966. Skittish about how radio would respond to a Black country singer, the label sent his first few albums to radio stations without any publicity photos.
The hits started coming, and continued throughout the next two decades. After making his Grand Ole Opry Debut in 1967, in 1971 he released the track that would come to be his signature song and biggest hit, “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’”, which rocketed to No. 1 and stayed there for five weeks; it even became a hit on the pop charts, where it peaked at No. 21.
An enduring classic, Pride performed the song last month at the CMA Awards, where he was honoured with a lifetime achievement award.
Last year, Pride was profiled by PBS’ “American Masters” documentary series, “Charley Pride: I’m Just Me”.
Speaking at a press session for the show at the 2019 edition of the Television Critics Association winter press tour, Pride credited the Almighty for his success.
“God had a lot to do with it,” he said. “I really believe that.”
“To say country music has lost a trailblazer is an obvious understatement, but in fact one of the biggest losses is Charley’s definitive country voice,” said Sarah Trahern, CEO of the Country Music Association, in a statement. “I remember working with Charley in 2009 on ‘Country Music: In Performance at the White House’ when President and Michelle Obama invited several country artists to perform. He was a trailblazer in so many ways. It was a special night and Charley was telling amazing stories. Our deepest condolences go out to his wife Rozene and the rest of his family and friends at this sad time.”
Following news of Pride’s passing, Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire and other famous fans of the late singer took to Twitter to pay tribute.
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. (1/2)
— Dolly Parton (@DollyParton) December 12, 2020
Rest In Peace. My love and thoughts go out to his family and all of his fans. – Dolly (2/2)
— Dolly Parton (@DollyParton) December 12, 2020
Charley Pride will always be a legend in Country music. He will truly be missed but will always be remembered for his great music, wonderful personality and his big heart. My thoughts are with his wife Rozene and their family. RIP, Charley. pic.twitter.com/2IYFfx4kLo
— Reba (@reba) December 12, 2020
I had the pleasure of meeting Charley Pride when I was playing the @opry. I was in awe of his presence and his talent. So saddened by the news of his passing. He was a true legend and trailblazer. His impact on our genre and generations of artists will never be forgotten. Rip
— Luke Combs 🎤 (@lukecombs) December 12, 2020
— Richard Marx (@richardmarx) December 12, 2020
— Randy Jackson (@YO_RANDYJACKSON) December 12, 2020
— Sunny Hostin (@sunny) December 12, 2020
Very sad news. Country music pioneer and legend, a man of many talents and grace, Charley Pride has passed away from COVID. I had the good fortune of interviewing him and loving his music. May he RIP. https://t.co/PWeMlo3ZvJ
— Dan Rather (@DanRather) December 12, 2020
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. His last performance was his hit, "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin.” Now he is one. @CountryMusic https://t.co/kEjoaTdPOo
— Ken Burns (@KenBurns) December 12, 2020
He treated everyone with respect & kindness. I’m in shock & so sad because I lost a good friend, the music business lost an incredible artist and the world lost an amazing citizen. #CharleyPride #kissanangelgoodmorning
— Lee Greenwood (@TheLeeGreenwood) December 12, 2020