The first black superstar of country music, singer Charley Pride, has died. His publicist confirmed that Pride passed away on December 12 in Dallas, Texas, from complications related to COVID-19. He was 86.
Country music’s biggest names, celebrities, and Pride’s fans took to social media Saturday to honor the music legend, who topped the charts with several songs. Among those who quickly paid tribute as the news shocked the country music world were country music’s living queens: Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire.
Parton extended her condolences to the country legend’s friends and family by writing a touching message on Twitter.
“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,” she wrote.
On the other hand, actress and singer McEntire shared a black and white photo of Pride with his guitar, recognizing that Pride “will always be a legend.”
“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,” McEntire tweeted.
While Lee Greenwood, best known for his patriotic song “God Bless the U.S.A.,” shared several photos of himself with Pride, whom he called his “dear friend.”
“Charley Pride was a dear friend & truly one of the sweetest men in the music business. I was privileged to be his opening act when I first came to town,” Greenwood tweeted. “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.”
Country Music’s First Black Superstar
In November, Charley Pride had just been seen by millions on live TV when he received the lifetime achievement award from the Country Music Association during its annual telecast. It was on that November 11, 2020, telecast that the country legend did his final performance.
Together with Jimmie Allen, a rising Black star in country music who expressed his gratitude to his predecessor, the two talented singers performed a duet of Pride’s classic “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’.” Pride then gave a lengthy and heartfelt speech while the small audience of nominees and their guests stood in delighted attention.
Born on March 18, 1934, in Sledge, Mississippi, Charley Pride was a sharecropper’s son who rose to become country music’s first black superstar.
His baritone voice was featured on more than fifty Top 10 country hits. He was also the first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“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,” the singer wrote in his memoir.
Pride first fell in love with the genre while listening to Grand Ole Opry radio shows during his youth. He used to sing in music clubs in his spare time while playing Negro League baseball when he was only sixteen, but decided to make it a full-time venture after a failed tryout with the New York Mets. He arrived in Nashville in 1963 and was eventually signed to RCA Records in 1965 by country guitarist and record executive Chet Atkins.
His first single was “Just Between You and Me.” Released in 1967, the song broke into the Top 10 on country charts and garnered Pride his first Grammy nomination. Pride then embarked on a career that spanned over four decades. Between 1967 and 1987, he won Grammy awards and became the top-selling country artist of RCA Records.
Some of Pride’s biggest hits include “Just Between You and Me” and “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” in 1971. His recording of “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'” became his biggest hit – it reached No. 1 on the country charts and crossed over to No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 1993, Pride was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.
Indeed, the world of country music has once again lost a superstar. Pride is survived by his wife, Rozene Cohran, along with their two sons and a daughter.