Iconic Country Singer Charley Pride Dead at 86 of COVID-19

Illustration for article titled Iconic Country Singer Charley Pride Dead at 86 of COVID-19
Photo: Jason Kempin (Getty Images)

Another Black veteran of the entertainment industry has died due to COVID-19. Charley Pride, the country singer behind classic songs such as “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’” and “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” is dead at 86.

Pride’s publicist said that the singer died on Saturday in Dallas of complications from the coronavirus, reports AP.

Pride was an immense talent who had breakthrough success in a music field historically marked by the sidelining of non-white artists. He was only one of three Black members of the Grand Ole Opry, joining the the pantheon for country music performers in 1993. In 1971 he was named Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association (CMA), and in 2000 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame for his captivating music that “broke racial and cultural barriers.”

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Last month, Pride appeared in-person at the CMA Awards in Nashville to accept the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award, for attaining “both national and international prominence and stature through concert performances, humanitarian efforts, philanthropy, record sales, and public representation at the highest level.”

The CMA issued a statement on Saturday saying Pride had tested negative for COVID-19 ahead of his appearance at the awards show in November, where he performed alongside upcoming Black country artist Jimmie Allen. “All of us in the Country Music community are heartbroken by Charley’s passing,” the association added.

Born in Sledge, Mississippi in 1934, Pride was the child of sharecroppers and began playing the guitar at 14. After stints as a baseball player in the Negro American Baseball League and the Pioneer League, and then serving in the army in the 1950s, Pride moved to Nashville to pursue his music career and released his first single “Snakes Crawl at Night” in 1966. He topped the Billboard country charts numerous times from then to the early 1970s, with tracks such as “All I Have to Offer You Is Me” and “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’” reaching the number one spot.

Though his rise was frequently accompanied by references to his race—some radio stations in Nashville initially refused to play his music because he was Black—Pride persevered and pushed back against what he called the “disease” of skin hangups. “We’re not colorblind yet, but we’ve advanced a few paces along the path and I like to think I’ve contributed something to that process,” he wrote in his 1994 memoir, according to the New York Times.

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Tributes poured in on Saturday from the country music community in response to the news of Pride’s death.

“I’m so heartbroken that one of my dearest and oldest friends, Charley Pride, has passed away,” said Dolly Parton. “It’s even worse to know that he passed away from COVID-19.”

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“Today I’m thinking of my friend,” said country star Darius Rucker. “Heaven just got one of the finest people I know.”

Loretta Lynn tweeted that Pride was “one of the very best things that ever happened to country music.”

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“Charley Pride opened the door for so many including me,” shared Billy Ray Cyrus. “He became a bridge of music for music lovers who found they had way more in common than they had different.”

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The Texas Rangers baseball team, which Pride was a part-owner of, said that it will fly flags at half-staff at the Globe Life Field and Globe Life Park stadiums in Arlington, Texas in his memory.

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Pride is survived by his wife and three children.

Writer, speaker, finesser, and a fly dresser. Jamaican-American currently chilling in Chicago.

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DISCUSSION

My adopted father, a Bahamian-American man, fashioned himself some kind of black cowboy, and loved all things country and western. Musically, this was his guy.

He passed in early 2006, and shortly after my brother(his blood son) & I happened into a visit to the country music hof in Nashville. We got odd looks, between our appearance and our Radiohead & Ragga Marley attire. Though that’s when they had a big Ray Charles exhibit filling one of their halls, so. Anyway we got to the end, and entered their rotunda filled with the HoF plaques. He found Charley Pride’s plaque right away, and he was filled with love and peace, bc it was if our whole random trip was all for him to have that moment.

Until we walked out to the lobby where there was a small commotion at the door: it was Charley Pride! In the flesh! He was arriving for some event regarding the Ray exhibit, and my brother just lit up, called out his name, and that beautiful man Charley Pride spent about ten minutes speaking with my brother. Their faces were the only ones they had in common in the place.

I think that moment really gave my brother some closure on his complicated relationship with his father. Bless Charley Pride.