Saturday, December 12, 2020
– Charley Pride, the most successful modern day Black country singer and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, died Saturday in Dallas of complications from Covid-19 at 86.
Pride amassed 52 country hits during his career and 30 number one hits, including "Is Anybody Going to San Antone" and "Kiss An Angel Good Mornin'." Almost every single he released between 1969 and 1983hit the top five. He also won the Entertainer of the Year award at the Country Music Association Awards in 1971.
Pride's sound was considered countrypolitan, merging country and pop music.
Pride emerged from Southern cotton fields to become country music's first Black superstar and the first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Pride was not the first Black artist to make important contributions to country music — DeFord Bailey was a star of the Grand Ole Opry from 1927 through 1941 — but Pride was a trailblazer who emerged during a time of division and rancor.
"No person of color had ever done what he has done," said Darius Rucker in the PBS American Masters film Charley Pride: I'm Just Me.
"To say country music has lost a trailblazer is an obvious understatement, but in fact one of the biggest losses is Charley's definitive country voice. I remember working with Charley in 2009 on 'Country Music: In Performance at the White House' when President and Michelle Obama invited several country artists to perform. He was a trailblazer in so many ways. It was a special night and Charley was telling amazing stories. Our deepest condolences go out to his wife Rozene and the rest of his family and friends at this sad time," said Sarah Trahern, Country Music Association CEO.
Born a sharecropper's son in Sledge, Miss., on March 18, 1934. Pride was the fourth of 11 children of poor sharecroppers.
When Pride was 14, his mother purchased his first guitar, and he taught himself to play. But his first love was baseball. In 1952, he pitched for the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League. In 1953, he signed a contract with the Boise Yankees, the Class C farm team of the New York Yankees. An injury caused him to lose speed on his fastball, and he was sent to the Yankees' Class D team in Fond du Lac, Wisc. Later that season, while with the Louisville Clippers, two players – Pride and Jesse Mitchell – were traded to the Birmingham Black Barons for a team bus.
He served in the Army from 1956-58 and went back to the Negro League upon being discharged.
He had tryouts with the New York Mets and Los Angeles (now California) Angels, but was not picked up. He played semi-pro baseball in Montana, while also working as a smelter. He earned extra money by singing before games. He continued his country career in Montana and enjoyed some success there.
Country stars Red Sovine and Red Foley discovered Pride in Helena, Mont. and eventually helped him come to Nashville in 1963. Pride made demonstration recordings with help from manager Jack Johnson.
The recordings languished for two years until Johnson met with producer Jack Clement, who offered songs for Pride to learn. On Aug. 16, 1965, Clement produced Pride at RCA Studio B. that led to RCA's Chet Atkins signing Pride to a recording contract. In 1966, he released his first RCA Victor single, "The Snakes Crawl at Night," which did not chart. His first album for RCA, "Country," came out later that year.
In 1967, Pride's recording of Clement's "Just Between You and Me," his third single, broke into country's top 10, and Pride quit his job as a smelter.
Pride was nominated for a Grammy Award for the song the next year. In the late summer of 1966, Pride played his first large show, in Detroit's Olympia Stadium. Since no biographical information had been included with those singles, few of the 10,000 country fans who came to the show knew Pride was Black, and only discovered the fact when he walked onto the stage. The applause turned into silence. "I knew I'd have to get it over with sooner or later," Pride later said. "I told the audience: 'Friends, I realize it's a little unique, me coming out here — with a permanent suntan — to sing country and western to you. But that's the way it is.'"
Pride endured racism during his career. "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," Pride wrote in his memoir.
He was considered a trailblazer for today's Black country acts. In 1967, he became the first black performer to appear at the Grand Ole Opry since founding member DeFord Bailey, who had last appeared in 1941.
Between 1969 and 1971, Pride had eight singles hit the top of the US Country Hit Parade and also charted on the Billboard Hot 100: "All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)", "(I'm So) Afraid of Losing You Again", "I Can't Believe That You've Stopped Loving Me", "I'd Rather Love You", "Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone", "Wonder Could I Live There Anymore", "I'm Just Me" and "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'."
The latter was considered his biggest hit, staying at number one for five weeks.
The hits continued into the 1980's with songs including "Mississippi Cotton Picking Delta Town", "Someone Loves You, Honey", "When I Stop Leavin' (I'll Be Gone)", "Burgers and Fries", "I Don't Think She's in Love Anymore", "Roll on Mississippi", "Never Been So Loved (In All My Life)", and "You're So Good When You're Bad."
On May 1, 1993, Pride became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.
Pride's final album, "Music in My Heart," came out in 2017.
Pride was honored with a CMA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020. His final performance came on Nov. 11 when he sang "Kiss An Angel Good Mornin'" during the CMA Awards show at Nashville's Music City Center with Jimmie Allen.
Charley Pride was the son of Tessie Stewart Pride and Mack Pride, Sr. He was the husband of Ebby Rozene Cohran Pride. His children are Carlton Kraig Pride, Charles Dion Pride and Angela Rozene Pride. He leaves behind five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.