Charley Pride, the first black star in country music – whose rich baritone in hits like Kiss an angel good morning 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.
The pride died on Saturday in Dallas of complications from COVID-19, according to Jeremy Westby of public relations firm 2911 Media.
“My heart is so broken that one of my oldest and dearest friends, Charley Pride, 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,” Dolly Parton tweeted.
Pride released dozens of albums and sold over 25 million records during a career that began in the mid-1960s. Kiss an angel good morning in 1971 included Someone goes to San Antone, Burgers and fries, Mountain of love, and Someone loves you, darling.
He had three Grammy Awards, more than 30 No. 1 hits between 1969 and 1984, won the Country Music Association’s Best Male Vocalist and Artist of the Year awards in 1972 and was nominated for the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.
WATCH | George Stroumboulopoulos interviews Charley Pride:
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 “pioneer” and said that without his encouragement, Milsap might never have gone to Nashville. “Hearing this news takes a piece of my heart out,” he said in a statement.
Until the early 1990s, when Cleve Francis appeared, Pride was the only black country singer on contract with a major label.
In 1993, he joined the cast of Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
My heart is so broken because one of my oldest and dearest friends, Charley Pride, passed away. It is even worse to know that he passed away from COVID-19. What a horrible, horrible virus. Charley, we will always love you. (1/2)
Rest in peace. My love and thoughts go to your family and all your fans. – Dolly (2/2)
“They used to ask me what it is like to be the ‘first black country singer’,” he told The Dallas Morning News in 1992. “So he was the ‘first black country singer’; then, ‘first black country singer’. I am now the ‘first African American country singer’. That is the only thing that has changed. This country is so concerned with race, so consumed by colors and pigments. I call this ‘skin problems’ – it is a disease. “
Pride grew in 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, by accepting the award for the work as a whole as part of the Mississippi governor’s awards for excellence in the arts, pride said it never focused on race.
“My older sister once said, ‘Why are you singing THEIR song?”, Said the pride. “But we all understand what the you-and-we syndrome has been. See, I never, as an individual, accepted that and I really believe that’s why I am where I am today.”
As a young man, before launching his singing career, he was a pitcher and an outsider in the Black American League with the Memphis Red Sox and the Pioneer League in Montana.
After playing minor league baseball for a few years, he ended up in Helena, Mont., Where he worked in a zinc smelting factory during the day and played country music in night clubs.
After a test with the New York Mets, he visited Nashville and entered country music when Chet Atkins, head of RCA Records, listened to two of his demo tapes and signed with him.
To ensure that Pride was judged for its music and not for its race, its first singles were sent to radio stations without a publicity photo. After his identity became known, some country radio stations refused to play his music.
‘Music is the greatest communicator’
For the most part, however, Pride said it was well received. At the beginning of his career, he left the white public at ease when he played about his “permanent tan”.
“Music is the greatest communicator on planet Earth,” he said in 1992. “Since people heard the sincerity in my voice and heard me project and watched my speech, it just dispelled any apprehension or bad feeling that they could Tue.”
Throughout his career, he sang positive rather than sad songs, often associated with country music.
WATCH | Charlie Pride performs at The Marty Stuart Show:
“Music is a beautiful way of expressing yourself, and I really believe that music shouldn’t be taken as a protest,” he told the Associated Press in 1985. “You can go too far with anything – singing, acting, whatever thing – and become politicized to the point where you stop being an artist. “
In 1994, he wrote his autobiography, Pride: The Charley Pride Story, in which he revealed that he was slightly manic-depressive.
He had surgery in 1997 to remove a tumor from his right vocal cord.
Pride received the Living Legend Award from Nashville Network / Music City News, recognizing 30 years of achievements 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 had a good life,” he said in 1985. “I tried to do my best and contribute my part. “