Pride died in Dallas on Saturday of complications from , 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 during a career that began in the mid-1960s. Hits besides “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” in 1971 included “Is Anybody Goin” ‘to San Antone’, ‘Burgers and Fries’, ‘Mountain of Love’ and ‘Someone Loves You Honey’.
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.
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 used to ask 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 country singer. black “; 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 race conscious, therefore eaten up on colors and pigments. I call it “skin catch” – it’s a disease. ”
Pride was raised in Sledge, Mississippi, the son of a sharecropper. He had seven brothers and three sisters.
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.
“My older sister once said, ‘Why are you singing THEIR music? Said Pride. “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 baseball for a few years, he found himself in Helena, MT, where he worked at a zinc smelter by day and played country music in nightclubs by night.
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.
For the most part, however, Pride said it had been 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.
“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 anywhere. what – singing, acting, whatever – and becoming politicized by the time you stop being an artist. ”
In 1994, he wrote his autobiography, “Pride: The Charley Pride Story,” in which he revealed he was mildly manic.
He underwent surgery in 1997 to remove a tumor from his right vocal cord.
He received the Nashville Network / Music City News Living Legend Award, honoring 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 my part. ”