Nearly a month to the day after performing at the CMA Awards, where he received a lifetime achievement award, country legend Charley Pride died Saturday of complications related to Covid-19, his representatives said in a statement. He was 86.
Pride, celebrated as country music's first Black superstar, passed in Dallas, Texas, where he had established his life's second successful act—in real estate and banking.
At Nov. 11's CMA Awards Pride took home the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award and sang "Kiss An Angel Good Mornin'" with Jimmie Allen. It was his final performance.
"I’m so heartbroken that one of my dearest and oldest friends, Charley Pride, has passed away," Dolly Parton tweeted Saturday afternoon. "It’s even worse to know that he passed away from COVID-19. What a horrible, horrible virus. Charley, we will always love you."
Reba McEntire tweeted, "Charley Pride will always be a legend in Country music. He will truly be missed but will always be remembered for his great music, wonderful personality and his big heart."
Billy Ray Cyrus called him a "gentleman... legend and true trail blazer."
Pride was born a sharecropper’s son in Sledge, Mississippi, joined the Army, worked at a smelting plant, and tried to break into big-league baseball, ending up as a pitcher for a New York Yankees' farm team before an injury sidelined his diamond dreams.
Last year Ken Burns' PBS documentary series "Country Music" quoted Pride as saying he was inspired by baseball great Jackie Robinson's major league breakthrough, which influenced his belief the sport could be his "way out of the cotton field."
"Charley Pride was a trail blazer whose remarkable voice & generous spirit broke down barriers in country music just as his hero Jackie Robinson had in baseball," Burns tweeted Saturday.
Pride moved to Nashville in 1963 to make music. In 1967 his recording of "Just Between You and Me" broke in the country Top 10 chart.
His first singles were released without noting that he was Black, and without publicity photos, according to "Country Music." As a result, early audiences were sometimes initially shocked into silence.
"Once they heard me sing, [they said], 'I don’t care if he’s green. I like his singing,'" Pride is quoted as saying.
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In his memoir, Pride wrote, "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."
His wife, Rozene, survives. They had three children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.