Charley Pride, first black country music star, dies of complications from COVID-19 at 86

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Country music’s first black star Charley Pride – including the wealthy baritone on hits such as Kiss an angel hello helped sell millions of records and made him the first black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame – died. He was 86 years old.
Pride died in Dallas of complications from COVID-19 on Saturday, according to Jeremy Westby of public relations firm 2911 Media.

“I’m so heartbroken that one of my longest and dearest friends, Charley Pride, has passed away. It’s even worse to know that he died of COVID-19. What a horrible horrible virus. Charley, we will always love you, ”Dolly Parton tweeted.

Pride released dozens of albums and sold over 25 million records in a career that began in the mid-1960s. Kiss an angel hello in 1971 included Is anyone going to San Antone?, Burgers and fries, Mountain of love, and Someone loves you darling.

He won three Grammy Awards, over 30 No.1 hits between 1969 and 1984, won the Country Music Association’s Best Singer and Artist of the Year award in 1972, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.

WATCH | George Stroumboulopoulos interviews Charley Pride:

Country legend Charley Pride visits the show to discuss his career. 14:03

The Smithsonian in Washington acquired Pride memorabilia, including a pair of boots and one of his guitars, for the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Ronnie Milsap called him a “trailblazer” and said that without his encouragement Milsap might never have been to Nashville. “Hearing this news tears a piece of my heart apart,” he said in a statement.

Until the early 1990s, when Cleve Francis arrived, Pride was the only black country singer signed to a major label.

In 1993, he joined the cast of Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

“They were asking me what it was like to be the ‘first country singer of color’,” he told the Dallas Morning News in 1992. “Then it was ‘the first black country singer’; then “first black country singer”. Now I am the “first African American country singer”. That’s about the only thing that has changed. This country is so concerned with its race, eaten so much of colors and pigments. I call it “skin problems” – it’s a disease. ”

Pride was raised to Sledge, Miss., Son of a sharecropper. He had seven brothers and three sisters. He married his wife, Rozene, in 1956 and the couple had two sons and a daughter.

In 2008, while accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the Mississippi Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts, Pride said he never focused on race.

Pride was presented at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville in June 2014. Prior to launching his singing career, he was a pitcher and outfielder in the Negro American League with the Memphis Red Sox and in the Pioneer League in Montana. (Jason Davis / Getty Images)

“My older sister once said, ‘Why are you singing THEIR music? ” Pride said. “But we all understand what y’all-and-us syndrome has been. You see, I never accepted that as an individual, and I really believe that’s why I’m where I am today.

A young man before launching his singing career, he was a pitcher and outfielder in the Negro American League with the Memphis Red Sox and in the Pioneer League in Montana.

After playing minor league baseball for a few years, he found himself in Helena, Mt., where he worked in a zinc smelter by day and played country music in nightclubs by night.

Pride, pictured with his wife, Rozene, in June 1972, grew up in Sledge, Mississippi, the son of a sharecropper. He had seven brothers and three sisters. The couple had two sons and a daughter. (Evening standard / Getty Images)

After a tryout with the New York Mets, he traveled to Nashville and dabbled in country music when RCA Records manager Chet Atkins heard two of his demo tapes and signed him.

To ensure that Pride was judged on his music and not on his race, his first singles were sent to radio stations without publicity photos. After his identity became known, a few country radio stations refused to play his music.

‘Music is the best communicator’

For the most part, however, Pride said it was well received. Early in his career, he put white audiences at ease when he joked about his “permanent tan”.

“Music is the greatest communicator on planet Earth,” he said in 1992. “Once people heard the sincerity in my voice and heard me project and watch my performance, it dissipated any apprehension or bad feeling they might have had. ”

Throughout his career, he sang positive songs instead of sad songs often associated with country music.

WATCH | Charlie Pride performs on The Marty Stuart Show:

“Music is a great way to express yourself, and I really believe that music shouldn’t be seen as a protest,” he told The Associated Press in 1985. “You can go too far in n ‘ whatever – singing, performing, whatever – and becoming politicized to the point where you stop being an artist. ”

In 1994, he wrote his autobiography, Pride: the story of Charley’s pride, in which he revealed he was mildly manic.

He underwent surgery in 1997 to remove a tumor from his right vocal cord.

Pride received the Nashville Network / Music City News Living Legend Award, recognizing 30 years of achievement, in 1997.

“I would like to be remembered as a good person who tried to be a good artist and made people happy, was a good American who paid his taxes and made a good living,” he said. stated in 1985. “I have tried to do my best and contribute. ”



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