Country Music Hall of Famer, Grand Ole Opry member, and pioneering black country artist Charley Pride has passed away due to complications of COVID-19. He died on December 12th at the age of 86 in Dallas, TX.
Born in Sledge, Mississippi as the forth child of 11 children to a sharecropper, Charley Pride challenged the notion that country music was a white man’s genre. Between 1967 and 1987, Pride delivered 52 Top 10 country hits, and had 29 #1’s. He won the CMA’s coveted Entertainer of the Year in 1971, along with Male Vocalist of the Year in 1971 and 1972. Along with Grammy Awards and other accolades, Charley Pride was one of the most successful, accomplished, and influential country artists of all time.
Born on March 18, 1934, Pride first began playing music at the age of 14 after his mother bought him a guitar and he taught himself how to play. But Pride’s first brush with fame would not be in music, it would be in sports. In 1952 he joined the Memphis Red Sox as a pitcher, which began his career in the Negro American League. Pride was once traded from the Louisville Clippers to the Birmingham Black Barrons for a team bus—the only player trade in baseball history that included a motor vehicle.
Pride’s dream of making it in the major leagues was cut short when he was drafted into the US Army in 1956. However he continued his baseball career while enlisted for the “All Army” team, and returned to civilian baseball after being discharged, playing in the Pioneer league, and trying out for The California Angels and New York Mets.
Pride’s struggles in baseball ultimately resulted in great success in country music. Though some accounts say executives at RCA tried to hide Pride’s race concerned that country fans would react adversely, pride himself said, “People didn’t care if I was pink. RCA signed me… they knew I was colored…They decided to put the record out and let it speak for itself.” Nonetheless, the power of Pride’s voice broke down racial barriers, resulting in wide success of not just Charley Pride in country music, but bridging the music to many members of the black community.
While still pursuing baseball, Pride began performing in clubs, and was encouraged along the way by artists such as Red Foley and Red Sovine. He formed a four-piece band called the Night Hawks while living in Montana, and eventually sent a demo tape to producer Chet Atkins, who ultimately singed Pride to RCA Records in 1966.
By the mid 70’s, Charley Pride was RCA’s best-selling artist since Elvis Presley. Pride became the first black country artists to sing at the Grand Ole Opry (harmonica player DeFord Bailey was the first performer), where he was invited to become a member in 1993. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000. He received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017, and just this November at the 2020 CMA Awards, received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award.
But beyond the accolades, it’s songs like “Kiss An Angle Good Morning,” “Just Between You and Me,” and “I Can’t Believe You Stopped Loving Me,” that put so much of human emotion into song in a way that nobody else could. Charley Pride became the voice of a generation.
Though the media and many other wanted to make race the central theme of Charley Pride’s career, Pride never did. It’s was Pride’s mere presence, his talent, and the way he quietly disproved the myths behind racism that made him so important and pioneering.
Charley Pride was the son of Tessie Stewart Pride and Mack Pride, Sr., and the husband of Ebby Rozene Cohran Pride. His children are Carlton Kraig Pride, Charles Dion Pride, and Angela Rozene Pride. His grandchildren are Carlton Kraig Pride, Jr., Malachi Pride, Syler Pride, Ebby Pride, and Arrentino Vassar. His two great-grandchildren are Skyler Pride and Carlton Kraig Pride, III. He is preceded in death by brothers Jonas McIntyre, Mack Pride, Jr., Louis Pride, Edward Pride, and Joe L. Pride, and by sister Bessie Chambers. He leaves behind siblings Harmon Pride, Stephen Pride, Catherine Sanders, and Maxine Pride, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to The Pride Scholarship at Jesuit College Preparatory School, St. Philips School and Community Center, The Food Bank, or the charity of your choice.