Charley Pride, the pioneering country artist best known as the genre’s first Black superstar, died Saturday in Dallas, Texas, of COVID-19 complications, according to Jeremy Westby of 2911 Enterprises. Pride was 86 years old.
Best-known for his rich baritone and chart-topping hits including “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’,” “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” and “Mountain of Love.” Pride was born a sharecropper’s son in Sledge, Miss., on March 18, 1934. He would go on to become the first Black inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.
A gifted athlete, Pride pitched professionally in the Negro League in the 1950s. After stints in the Army and a Missouri smelting plant, and unsuccessful attempts to break into baseball’s big leagues, he got his break in 1965, moving to Nashville and signing to RCA Records on the strength of some demo recordings and a fateful session at RCA Studio B.
The rest is history: Pride became RCA Records’ top-selling country artist, earned 52 Top 10 country hits, and won numerous awards, including three Grammys in 1971 and 1972, the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year award in 1971, the CMA’s top male vocalist prize in 1971 and 1972, and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020.
It was at the CMA Awards on Nov. 11 of this year that Pride would give his final performance, playing “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’” alongside Jimmie Allen.
COVID-19 concerns surrounded the event, with a number of artists pulling out of appearing as a result of positive tests.
A titan of the genre, Pride was memorialized by prominent country artists from Dolly Parton to Charlie Daniels on Saturday:
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
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
Mom and I are saddened to hear of the passing of the great Charley Pride. He was a legend and a pioneer who broke down barriers in country music, and his impact on music in general is undeniable. He will be greatly missed. – CD, Jr. #RIPCharleyPridepic.twitter.com/bCpz396qOH
— Charlie Daniels (@CharlieDaniels) December 12, 2020
It’s such a sad day saying so long to #CharleyPride. I’m just so thankful I got to sing a song with him. That’s where this pic was taken. I also narrated his I’ll Be Me documentary. My heart, my love, my soul… everything goes out to Rozene and the entire Pride family.d pic.twitter.com/gv6RmTV7y4
— Tanya Tucker (@tanyatucker) December 12, 2020
The last time I spoke to my good friend and legend Charley Pride. We met in ‘92 playing shows together in Australia. His beloved sweetheart Rosie by his side. A gentleman… legend and true trail blazer. With much respect #RIPpic.twitter.com/dewMqcC6Rk
— Billy Ray Cyrus (@billyraycyrus) December 12, 2020
A press release sums up Pride’s legacy with fitting eloquence:
Today, Black artists including Allen, [Darius] Rucker, Mickey Guyton, Rissi Palmer, Rhiannon Giddens, Yola, and others add new chapters to country music’s story. Charley Pride’s impact is evident and important to all of them, and also to every other country performer who builds bridges with melody and sincerity.
Charley Pride escaped the cotton fields, where labor hurt his hands, back, and knees. He transcended and ascended through connection. Through fortitude and artistry, he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry and a beloved American icon.
Pride is survived by his wife, Ebby Rozene Cohran Pride; his children, Carlton Kraig Pride, Charles Dion Pride and Angela Rozene Pride; his grandchildren, Carlton Kraig Pride, Jr., Malachi Pride, Syler Pride, Ebby Pride and Arrentino Vassar; his siblings, Harmon Pride, Stephen Pride, Catherine Sanders and Maxine Pride; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Listen to a 1985 Pride performance from the Paste archives below.