Charley Pride, country music's first Black superstar, dies at 86 of COVID-19 complications

The first Black superstar in country music died Saturday at the age of 86.

Jeremy Westby, the singer's publicist, said in a news release that the singer died in Dallas, Texas, due to the effects of COVID-19.

Pride's career spanned more than five decades and he left a trailblazing legacy.

He overcame club audiences unwilling to hear a Black singer cover Hank Williams and the promoter who was skeptical at hosting his performances to once be the best-selling artist on the label since Elvis Presley.

Pride topped country charts 29 times in his career, singing stories rich with honesty, such as "I Can't Believe That You've Loving Me," "I'm Just Me" and "Where Do I Put Her Memory?"

Charley Pride was honored for his career at the awards.

Pride didn't always dwell on the magnitude of his accomplishments, though he detailed his struggles in his 1995 autobiography. He told The Tennessean in November that he was often asked which of his songs was his favorite to sing.

His response? I'm singing that one right now. That's what my answer is, out of 500 and some songs.

In 1971 Pride was named Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association and in 1974 and 1993 he was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry.

The newest member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Charley Pride, is emotional just after learning he has been elected. He was named along with Faron Young during a press conference.

He was the first black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

"To be doing that at a time when nobody really wanted him here, it's crazy to look back now, that must've been so hard," he told The Tennessean in November. "I can deal with whatever comes my way because it can't be like what Charley went through."

He received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2020 CMA Awards, where he was applauded by a live audience. He was introduced by a modern Black star.

Allen told him that he might never have had a career in country music if it wasn't for the artist who made the best kind of history.

The live audience at Nashville's Music City Center was different from nearly every other awards show held this year.

Charley Pride is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Country Music Association Awards.

During the 50th annual CMA Awards show, Charley Pride performed "Kiss An Angel Good Morning".

Mississippi upbringing.

Mack Pride and his wife, Tessie B. Stewart Pride, had a son named Charley Frank Pride.

One of 11 children, he worked as a kid picking cotton for his father, a local sharecropper who would often gather his family around an old Philco radio to listen to the Grand Ole Opry broadcasts.

His mother helped Pride save $10 to buy his first guitar.

He learned songs from early Opry singers, heard the Louvin Brothers on the famed WSM broadcast, and caught radio star Smilin' Eddie Hill at makeshift concerts in town.

Pride said that he lived 54 miles from Memphis. They would put a flat bed truck up.

Pride told Hill that he wanted to get up there so bad. He said, "You should say something." We would've gotten you up there. That wasn't something to do back then. Segregation, you know.

From baseball fields to a record deal.

Pride's B-side was music. His first hit was on a baseball field.

Pride pursued his own major league career in the 1950s, a decade after the break of segregation in baseball. He pitched for teams in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Alabama, Idaho, Texas, and the Memphis Red Sox in the major league farm system.

He was drafted into the U.S. military after playing on the Negro American League all-star team. He was in service until 1958.

Pride said he was going to break all the records in the major league. I was going to sing by the time I was 35 or 36. My plan was that.

Pride's major league opportunities dwindled in the early 1960s, but his voice grew.

He lived in Montana at the time and worked at a smelting factory and occasionally sang in bars. At a Montana gig in 1962, Pride was invited to sing two songs on stage, "Lovesick Blues" and "Heartaches By The Number."

In 1963, Sovine encouraged Pride to visit Cedarwood Publishing. After a tryout for the New York Mets in Clearwater, Florida, Pride headed to Music City.

Two years later, Pride got a deal at RCA with the help of "Cowboy" Jack Clement and "Chet Atkins", and he connected with his would-be manager at Cedarwood.

People react to a musician.

As civil rights activists marched for equality in the South in the 1960's, the label hesitated at promoting African-American in country music.

The "hillbilly" format, which was released in the 1920s as a segregation tactic for white record buyers, was dominated by black consumers.

The 14th annualCMA Awards show at the Grand Ole Opry House was hosted by Charley Pride.

Pride's early singles, such as "The Snakes Crawl at Night" and "Before I Met You," were not distributed by the label.

Pride's face could not be kept off a record, but he could still be heard by people who paid for tickets.

Black artists in country music correct the record of country music's past and examine it in the future.

Pride was greeted with silence as he took the stage after rousing applause. He made a sound similar to a deflating balloon when recalling his first gig.

Pride said that they were quiet as a pin. They thought it was a joke.

Pride faced the biggest gig of his career when he performed at the Detroit stadium in 1966. Each night he'd been walking out to a few hundred deflated balloons. He would be walking to thousands.

"Here's what Jack and I came up," Pride said, "'Ladies and gentlemen I realize it's a unique little with me on stage wearin' this permanent tan.' I only have ten minutes to do three singles, but I might do a Hank Williams song, but I don't have time to talk about pigmentation.

I hit it.

Leaving a mark on country music.

By 1967, Pride's song "Just Between You and Me" was in the top 10 of the country charts. He didn't stop there either.

Pride's charming voice propelled him to the top of country charts throughout the 1970s and '80s.

He achieved a level of commercial country music success achieved by few artists before him, totaling more than 50 top 10 country hits.

"Charley Pride is one of the all-time greats, just as a country music singer," he said. Everybody knows he's an icon.

"Kiss An Angel Good Morning" is one of Pride's best-known songs, and it spent five weeks at the top of the country charts.

The MTA named a trolley car after Pride in 1999. The Pride of Country Music car was dedicated during the Fan Fair breakfast.

Pride said he had no idea what it would do. I was so excited to get into the studio to get that baby done. It's been my biggest so far.

He credited his success to the singing that took him from baseball fields to the Grand Ole Opry stage.

"Chet told Jack Clement he'd never heard a voice, but when I started singing like that, he cut through," Pride said. I guess it's the richness of the voice.

In 1973, and 1974, Pride won the Male Vocalist of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards, becoming the first artist to win back-to-back victories in the competitive category.

The Recording Academy honored Pride with a Lifetime Achievement award.

The path for Black country singers after Pride wouldn't be as fast as those in major league baseball. It took a long time for another Black artist to be welcomed to the top of the radio charts in country music.

Pride had an impact that was more evident in the final year of his life. One of the last songs he recorded was a collaboration with both Allen and Rucker, as other Black country performers continued to find critical acclaim and chart success.

Pride acknowledged that he had been a inspiration for many others as he stood on stage at the CMAs. He immediately pivoted, dedicating most of his speech to important figures in his life and career, including Johnson and Clement.

I have to say something about some of the people that have influenced my life.

Donations can be made to The Pride Scholarship at Jesuit College Preparatory School or St.Philips School and Community Center in Dallas. Donations can also be made to a charity.

The original article was on Nashville Tennessean.