Charley Pride, known as the Jackie Robinson of country music and the first black performer to become a member of the Country Hall of Fame in 2000, died Saturday, December 12, 2020, due to complications of COVID-19 at age 86.
Country stars paid tribute to Pride, including Darius Rucker, a three-time Grammy, CMA Award winner, and the second African American to host the CMA awards since Pride co-hosted in 1975.
The first time I saw Charley Pride was on Hee Haw when I was in the first or second grade. I remember thinking, “This is awesome. This guy looks like me, and there’s no one else on that show that looks like me. I couldn’t have done what I do, I don’t think if there hadn’t been Charley before me.” said Rucker on Billboard.com.
Charley Pride was born on March 18, 1938, in Sledge, MS. He got his first guitar at the age of 14 and listened to country singers such as Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, and Ernest Tubbs, to name a few.
Pride’s first passion was baseball. He was an outfielder and pitcher with Negro League’s Memphis Red Fox, played in minor league clubs in Montana, and had tryouts with the California Angels and the New York Mets. He would sing country songs to his teammates on bus trips that lead to performing at clubs.
In 1966, Pride received a recording contract with help from his manager, Jack Johnson, with RCA Records. The release of his first single, “The Snakes Crawl at Night,” reached the Top Ten. Pride had 50 Top Ten hits between 1966 and 1984, 28 of them number ones, including “Kiss An Angel Good Morning,” “Is Anybody Goin To San Antone,” and “Mountain of Love.”
Pride was voted Entertainer of the Year in 1971 by the Country Music Association, top male vocalist of 1971 and 1972, and was a regular cast member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1993. His memoir, “Pride: The Charley Pride Story,” was published in 1994 and was presented a lifetime achievement award by the Mississippi Arts Commission.
Pride’s last performance was at the CMA Awards on November 11 in Nashville, TN, and he received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award. Pride appeared alongside Jimmie Allen, who made history as the first black artist to launch a career with two consecutive No. 1 hits on country radio. His debut single “Best Shot” claimed the No. 1 spot for three weeks – and second being his latest single “Make Me Want To” off his debut album Mercury Lane, released fall 2018.
Allen posted a video on YouTube about the death of Pride.
“We lost a legend. Mr. Charley Pride was a legend. I remember I think I was 13 or 12. I was with my dad, and we were just really getting into music,” he said in part. “I told him I wanted to get into music,” and he said, “There’s someone you need to know,” and he put me onto Charley Pride. When I heard him, I was like, “Cool, He’s got a good voice, Dad. I love his voice.” My dad said, “No, you need to see what he looks like.” He showed me his picture, and I was like, “Woooo, ok, alright, I get it now.” It really showed me that it doesn’t matter what people might think you can’t do because of the color of your skin,”
On Instagram, Allen also called out country singers for not talking about Pride’s legacy as they have done for other country artists who have died in the past.
“What’s bothering me is, I’ve seen so many country artists make posts about other country artists and legends we have lost last few years, but some of them have said NOTHING about the Legend, Trailblazer, Opry Member, ACM, CMA, Grammy Winner, Country Hall of Fame icon Charley Pride,” Allen explained that Pride went from being a hero to becoming like a grandfather to him.
Charley Pride’s family and friends held a private wake and memorial in Dallas. Future plans for a public celebration of life memorial will be announced at a later.
Tammy Gibson is a travel historian, author, and writer. Find her at www.sankofatravelher.com, Facebook, Instagram @SankofaTravelher, and Twitter @SankofaTravelH