Country music pioneer Charley Pride dies due to COVID-19 complications

Country music singer Charley Pride is seen in this 1975 photo. (AP Photo)
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Country music singer Charley Pride is seen in this 1975 photo. (AP Photo)

Credit: AP Photo

Charley Pride, the legendary music pioneer who is widely considered the first Black superstar in country music, has died.

The 86-year-old died Saturday in Dallas of complications from COVID-19, his publicist said.

Pride’s last public appearance was at the 54th Annual Country Music Association Awards on Nov. 11 in which he received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award.

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During the month of February, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will publish a daily feature highlighting African American contributions to our state and nation. Go to www.ajc.com/news/martin-luther-king-jr/ for more subscriber exclusives on people, places, organizations, and artists like Charley Pride that have changed the world and to see videos and listen to Spotify playlists on featured African American pioneers. (Edits by Tyson Horne and Ryon Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com rhorne@ajc.com)

The award show aired live from Nashville and had a notably smaller in-person audience in previous years in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Before the CMA honor, Pride already had a career full of accolades. He was a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry, where, in 1967, he was the first African American to sing at the venue.

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Charley Pride, right, receives his Country Music Hall of Fame plaque from Merle Haggard at the Country Music Association Awards show at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 4, 2000. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Credit: AP

Charley Pride, right, receives his Country Music Hall of Fame plaque from Merle Haggard at the Country Music Association Awards show at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 4, 2000. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
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Charley Pride, right, receives his Country Music Hall of Fame plaque from Merle Haggard at the Country Music Association Awards show at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 4, 2000. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

A three-time Grammy winner, Pride had at least 43 No. 1 country singles and multiple albums that have been certified platinum and gold.

Charley Frank Pride was born to sharecropper Mack Pride Sr., and his wife, Tessie Stewart Pride, on a cotton farm in Sledge, Mississippi, on March 18, 1934. As one of 11 children, he was exposed to blues, gospel and country music. By 14, he bought his first guitar and taught himself how to play it by listening to songs on the radio. It was the same radio his father would tune to WSM-AM to listen to the Grand Ole Opry.

Outside of music, Pride was an athlete. He played baseball for the Negro American League from 1952 through 1958, becoming an all-star player in 1956. He was also drafted into and served in the Army during that time, from 1956 to 1958. He was stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado.

ExploreCharley Pride: From baseball player to country music icon

After receiving his discharge from the Army, Pride worked at a Missouri smelting plant and made his first effort in a singing career between playing baseball, the latter of which ultimately ended after a failed tryout for the New York Mets in 1963. After recording some music demos with the help of his manager Jack Johnson, he was signed by RCA Records in 1966.

Pride’s 1967 single “Just Between You and Me” did well after two prior singles laid the groundwork. He earned his first Grammy nomination for the record. Pride went on to become country music’s first Black superstar, selling tens of millions of records from 1967 to 1987, including 1971′s “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’,” which went to No. 1 and became one of Pride’s signature songs. In that time, he was the highest-selling country artist for RCA.

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Country singer Charley Pride sings the national anthem during the third session of the Democratic National Convention at the podium of Moscone Center in San Francisco, on July 18, 1984. (AP Photo/Ira Schwarz)

Credit: AP Photo/Ira Schwarz

Country singer Charley Pride sings the national anthem during the third session of the Democratic National Convention at the podium of Moscone Center in San Francisco, on July 18, 1984. (AP Photo/Ira Schwarz)
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Country singer Charley Pride sings the national anthem during the third session of the Democratic National Convention at the podium of Moscone Center in San Francisco, on July 18, 1984. (AP Photo/Ira Schwarz)

Credit: AP Photo/Ira Schwarz

Credit: AP Photo/Ira Schwarz

Even as he had success in country music, Pride remained a baseball fan, becoming one of the owners of the Texas Rangers in 2010 and attending Rangers home games.

His impact is seen in Black country performers today, including Darius Rucker, Jimmie Allen, Mickey Guyton, Rissi Palmer, Rhiannon Giddens, Yola and others. And Pride continued the legacy of those before him, including DeFord Bailey, the first African American to perform music at the Grand Ole Opry.

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Charley Pride celebrated his 25th Anniversary as a Grand Ole Opry member with appearances at the venue in Nashville, Tennessee, May 5 and 6. (Rachael Black, courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry via news release)

Credit: Rachael Black / Grand Ole Opry

Charley Pride celebrated his 25th Anniversary as a Grand Ole Opry member with appearances at the venue in Nashville, Tennessee, May 5 and 6. (Rachael Black, courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry via news release)
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Charley Pride celebrated his 25th Anniversary as a Grand Ole Opry member with appearances at the venue in Nashville, Tennessee, May 5 and 6. (Rachael Black, courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry via news release)

Credit: Rachael Black / Grand Ole Opry

Credit: Rachael Black / Grand Ole Opry

Pride is survived by his wife, Ebby Rozene Cohran Pride; a daughter, Angela Rozene Pride; two sons, Carlton Kraig Pride and Charles Dion Pride; grandchildren Carlton Kraig Pride, Jr., Malachi Pride, Syler Pride, Ebby Pride and Arrentino Vassar; and two great-grandchildren, Skyler Pride and Carlton Kraig Pride, III.

The family has asked mourners to donate to The Pride Scholarship at Jesuit College Preparatory School, St. Philips School and Community Center, The Food Bank, or the charity of their choice in lieu of flowers.

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