Country singer Charley Pride, the first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, died in Dallas today from complications related to COVID-19. He was 86.
Pride gave his final performance—a duet of his song “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’” with nascent Black country singer Jimmie Allen—at the Country Music Association Awards in November, where he received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award. The show had been criticized for being held indoors—without masks—amid the raging coronavirus pandemic. Pride had previously won the Entertainer of the Year award at the CMAs in 1971, and was named the top male vocalist in both 1971 and 1972.
Pride was born to a sharecropper in Sledge, Mississippi, on March 18, 1934. He served in the Army and worked at a smelting plant in Missouri, later pursuing a baseball career in the Memphis Red Sox and the Birmingham Black Barons in a bid for the major leagues. In 1963 he moved to Nashville to cut his first demos. He would sign with RCA in 1965, and release his first album Country in 1966. It would be the first of eight albums to be certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. Pride would go on to release 41 studio country albums, two gospel albums and a Christmas album. He scored 29 No. 1 singles on the Country charts, including “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’,” “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” and “Mountain of Love.”
Between 1967 and 1987 Pride was RCA Records’ top-selling country artist. He made his Grand Ole Opry debut in 1967, eventually joining as a member in 1993. He was nominated for thirteen Grammy awards between 1966-79, winning three times.
Of his contributions to diversifying country music, Pride wrote in his memoir, “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.”