Charley Pride Manager Says CMA Critics “Crusading to Stir Up Mud”

Country legend Charley Pride died on December 12th due to complications from COVID-19, and almost immediately after his death was confirmed by representatives, multiple artists and journalists immediately began both speculating and outright blaming the CMA Awards for causing the 86-year-old’s passing.

“I don’t want to jump to conclusions because no family statement has been made. But if this was a result of the CMAs being indoors, we should all be outraged,” Maren Morris said in a now deleted Tweet, despite attending the indoor awards show herself, and being seen in multiple photos off the stage without wearing a mask.

“Honestly you’re right to acknowledge what everyone is wondering & as usual YOU have a lot to lose for asking the question,” Brandi Carlile replied to Morris. “Thank you for being human. Whether that was the place he got it or not- they endangered him & it easily could have been. It’s quietly bothered me for weeks.”

Mickey Guyton also demanded, “We need answers as to how Charley Pride got Covid.”

As the controversy ensued, the CMA Awards issued a statement, saying “Everyone affiliated with the CMA Awards followed strict testing protocols outlined by the city health department and unions. Charley was tested prior to traveling to Nashville. He was tested upon landing in Nashville, and again on show day, with all tests coming back negative. After returning to Texas following the CMA Awards, Charley again tested negative multiple times. All of us in the Country Music community are heartbroken by Charley’s passing. Out of respect for his family during their grieving period, we will not be commenting on this further.”

Nonetheless, the controversy has persisted to the point where now Charley Pride’s close friend, manager, and longtime bass player Kevin Bailey is speaking out.

In an article titled, “Charley Pride’s Manager Slams CMA Critics” in The Dallas Morning News, Kevin Bailey says, “This COVID thing, it’s impossible to know where it came from, where you got it. I do know that Charley tested negative twice after he came back from Nashville, and it may have even been three times. My understanding is that when Charley went into the hospital, we thought he had pneumonia. Somebody decided to do another test, and then they put him in the COVID unit.”

Kevin Bailey continued, “Charley was the best of anybody I knew with staying isolated. He and his wife were home all the time. And every time I went and had a meeting with him, we were both masked and sitting across the room from each other. Every precaution was taken. I think it’s unfortunate that people are out there crusading to stir up some mud. Because I really don’t think the CMAs were negligent in any way. Every time we darkened the door, we got tested.”

Individuals criticizing the CMAs as the sole party responsible for Charley Pride attending the 2020 CMA Awards are also overlooking that it was both Charley Pride’s choice and wish to attend the 2020 CMA Awards in person. Pride was the recipient of the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020, and also performed and gave an acceptance speech. On November 10th—the day before the CMA Awards—Charley Pride told The Tennessean, “The best I can say is I wanna go and receive this and put it with all the rest that I’ve been fortunate enough to get, and enjoy it.” 

Critics have also been wondering why Pride couldn’t have accepted the award via zoom or other remote technology. But Charley Pride didn’t have to participate in the 2020 CMAs at all to receive the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2019, the award went to Kris Kristofferson, who not only was not in attendance to accept the award, he didn’t even make a video or in any way acknowledged the award during the presentation. Instead, Kristofferson chose to play a theater show in Davenport, Iowa during the 2020 CMAs.

Charley Pride attended the 2020 CMA Awards because he wanted to. The CMAs certainly did not demand his presence, and would have facilitated Charley’s request if he’d chosen to accept the award remotely, or would have be fine if he didn’t participate in the presentation at all.

Multiple critics of the 2020 CMA Awards have also wondered why it took so long for the CMAs to honor Charley Pride. “They let an 86 year old man get on a plane to get an award he should have gotten decades ago in the middle of a pandemic,” freelance journalist and outspoken critic of the CMAs Marissa R. Moss tweeted out.

However, the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award was not created until 2012 when Willie Nelson was the inaugural recipient. The CMAs also named Charley Pride Entertainer of the Year in 1971. At the time, Pride was only the fifth artist in history to receive country music’s greatest distinction. Pride was also named the CMA Male Vocalist of the Year in both 1971 and 1972. And the CMA’s did honor Charley Pride two decades ago. The Country Music Association also selects the members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and Pride became the institution’s first black inductee in 2000. Pride is also a previous host of the CMA Awards.

The CMA Awards did have numerous COVID-19 protocols in place for the presentation, including limiting capacity inside the awards, testing all participants, and multiple social distancing protocols. The CMA’s strict protocols resulted in the Associated Press pulling coverage from the event due to the restrictions placed on their still photographers. “Organizers had initially sought AP photo coverage from inside the ceremony, but said that due to coronavirus precautions it could not accommodate a wire service photographer,” the AP said in a statement.

After initial rounds of testing for the awards, multiple performers were barred from attending for either testing positive for COVID-19, or for potential exposure, including members of Lady A and Rascal Flatts, Lee Brice, fiddle player Jenee Fleenor, and Florida Georgia Line member Tyler Hubbard.

Nonetheless, many were still concerned about the lack of mask wearing by many at the CMA Awards, and the lack of social distancing at certain moments, with some even characterizing the presentation as a “superspreader” event. However, there has not been a single case of COVID-19 linked to the 2020 CMA Awards, and Charley Pride is the only artist who it is being speculated may have contracted it either at the awards, or traveling to and from them from his home in Dallas, TX.

The CMAs were also criticized in 2020 for lacking an In Memoriam segment, which excluded John Prine, Billy Joe Shaver, Jerry Jeff Walker, and other artists that passed away in 2020 from being mentioned, despite an extended lineup of tributes to artists in the 2020 lineup, including Kenny Rogers, Joe Diffie, Mac Davis, and Charlie Daniels.

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In 2020, the CMA Awards chose to make Charley Pride the centerpiece of their presentation. The tribute started off with a performance by Jimmie Allen, followed by a performance by Pride himself, and an opportunity for Pride to make an extended speech. Featuring Charley Pride so prominently and awarding him the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Awards was in answer to critics who demand more representation of older artists at the CMA Awards, and for more emphasis of artists of color in the genre. Now the CMA is now being criticized for that same decision.

We are likely never to know when or how Charley Pride contracted COVID-19, and it very well could have been the 2020 CMA Awards, or on his trip to or from the event. But unlike so many of country music’s most legendary performers—including the long list of artists who have died in 2020 alone—Charley Pride received a proper tribute while he was still around to enjoy it. It was poignant, fitting, and ultimately, very timely.

It was Charley Pride’s choice to be at the 2020 CMA Awards, and though speculation in the situation is understandable, and the concern is warranted, there continues to be no definitive answer as to where Charley Pride contracted COVID-19, and it’s ultimately hurtful to Charley’s family and representatives—who lobbied for him to receive this distinction from the CMA, and may have encouraged him to attend—to continue to sow wild speculation and lay blame at the CMA Awards for Charley Pride’s death.

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