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CHARLEY PRIDE,
1934-2020

Charley Pride, the first Black country-music superstar, died Saturday in Dallas. He was 86.

His publicist said the cause was complications of COVID-19.

Pride, who recently received the CMA’s Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award, collected countless laurels over the course of his boundary-breaking career, including CMA’s Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year (twice) and induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was the first Black artist to co-host the CMAs.

Pride's story feels iconic from the outset. The son of a Mississippi sharecropper, he picked cotton to earn the money for his first guitar. His father’s aversion to the culture surrounding the blues steered him to the music of Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb and other country legends. Even so, he at first seemed destined for a career in baseball and played in the Negro Leagues for a few years prior to a stint in the military. An arm injury put an end to his dreams of glory on the diamond, but his first Nashville demos caught the attention of Chet Atkins, who inked him to RCA. He released a string of singles during the mid-'60s. At the time, few, if any, listeners had an inkling he was Black. Then came his debut album, Country Charley Pride, which went gold.

Pride withstood untold racial antagonism stoically and still managed to conquer his chosen genre. He earned no fewer than 29 Country #1s, including "Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’” and “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me).” He released dozens of albums during a career that saw him become the biggest-selling RCA artist since Elvis Presley, culminating in 2017's Music in My Heart.

In addition to his achievements behind the microphone, Pride notched numerous successes in business, including his management and booking company, Chardon, and his participation in Pi-Gem Publishing. He became a Grand Ole Opry cast member in 1993.

“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,” reads a statement from CMA chief Sarah Trahern. “I remember working with Charley in 2009 on Country Music: In Performance at the White House when Barack 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.” 

“Music is about breaking barriers. As one of the first black superstars in country music, Charley Pride did just that,” proclaimed Recording Academy chief Harvey Mason Jr. "A three-time Grammy winner and 13-time nominee, the Recording Academy feels this loss deeply. During his nearly five-decade long career, Pride inspired artists and paved the way for so many in the industry, which is why the Academy honored him with our Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. He'll be sorely missed, but we are grateful for the remarkable legacy he leaves behind."

Photo Credit: Joseph Llanes 

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