Charley Pride, First Black Country Music Superstar, Dies at 86

Charley Pride performing Kiss An Angel Good Morning

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Charley Pride, one of country music's first Black superstars, and the first Black Country star to be signed to a major label has died. He was 86.

Charley Pride was the first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He released multiple albums and sold millions of records worldwide, since he started his music career in 1960s. Among the most successful hits are 1971 "Kiss an Angel Good Morning", "Mountain of Love," "Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone," "Burgers and Fries," and "Someone Loves You Honey."

Charley Pride broke racial barriers in country music, which he highlighed when he told The Dallas Morning News in 1992:

"They used to ask me how it feels to be the `first colored country singer,' "Then it was `first Negro country singer;' then `first black country singer.′ Now I'm the `first African-American country singer.′ That's about the only thing that's changed. This country is so race-conscious, so ate-up with colors and pigments. I call it `skin hangups' — it's a disease."

But, as Charles Pride said in 2008 while accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the Mississippi Governor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts, he never accepted to be limited by racial prejudices:

"My older sister one time said, 'Why are you singing THEIR music?' But we all understand what the y'all-and-us-syndrome has been. See, I never as an individual accepted that, and I truly believe that's why I am where I am today."

He served in the U.S. Army. As a young man before, well before his music career, Charley Pride played baseball as a pitcher and outfielder in the Negro American League with the Memphis Red Sox and in the Pioneer League in Montana.
When the baseball future could not be seen, he moved to Helena, Montana and worked in a metal smelting plant during the day, while playing country music in nightclubs at night.

After playing minor league baseball a couple of years, he ended up in Helena, Montana, where he worked in a zinc smelting plant by day and played country music in nightclubs at night.

He signed with RCA in 1965 and in 1967 released "Just Between You and Me," which became his first country music top 10. Until the early 1990s, Charley Pride was the only Black country singer signed to a major label.

During his music career, Charley Pride had at least 30 no. 1 hits on the country music charts. He won three Grammys, including "Best Male Country Vocal Performance" in 1972 , and several awards from the Country Music Association. He was named Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year in 1971.

In all, Charley Pride won the Country Music Association's Top Male Vocalist and Entertainer of the Year awards in 1972, received the Living Legend award from The Nashville Network/Music City News, recognizing 30 years of achievement, in 1997,
was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000, and in 2020 was awarded the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award by the Country Music Association (CMA).
He also was honored with a star on the Walk of Fame by Hollywood in 1999 and a lifetime achievement from the Grammy awards in 2017. A pair of his boots and one of his guitars were acquired by The Smithsonian in Washington for the the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

"I'd like to be remembered as a good person who tried to be a good entertainer and made people happy, was a good American who paid his taxes and made a good living...I tried to do my best and contribute my part," Charley Pride told the media in 1985.

Born on March 18, 1934 in Sledge, Mississippi and the son of a sharecropper, Charley Pride had seven brothers and three sisters.

In 1956, Charly Pride married his wife, Rozene, who survived him along with their three children, Kraig, Dion and Angela, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Charley Pride's final performance was on November 11 at the CMA Awards, where he performed "Kiss and Angel Good Mornin'" with Jimmie Allen.


@AfroAmerica Network, 2020