This music world is mourning the loss of groundbreaking country star, Charley Pride, who passed away on December 12th following a battle with coronavirus. He was 86.

Born in Sledge, Mississipi, on March 18, 1934, to a sharecropper father. Pride spent his early years serving in the Army and working at a smelting plant before pursuing a major league baseball career as a means to escape poverty. Pride has been remembered as a pitcher with a “pretty good little curve” who cut his teeth with the Memphis Red Sox and the Birmingham Black Barons during the early 1950s.

In 1963, Pride ventured to Nashville to record his first demos. After signing to RCA in 1965 Pride released his debut, gold-certified album Country in 1966. Over the course of his rich, illustrious career, Pride released 41 studio country albums, two gospel albums and a Christmas album.

Pride earned 52 Top 10 country hits, including 29 Number One singles including ‘Kiss an Angel Good Mornin”, ‘All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)’ and ‘Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone.’ Between 1967 and 1987 Pride was RCA Records’ top-selling country artist since Elvis Presley.

During the fledgling days of his career, RCA would obscure Pride’s race from radio jockeys. When singles were sent to DJs and press, they arrived without a press photo. He was was notably the first African-American performer to appear on the Grand Ole Opry stage since Deford Bailey made his debut in 1927.

Between 1966-79 Pride was nominated for thirteen Grammy Awards, of which he won 3. In 2000, he became the first black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

In a 2017 interview with NPRPride admitted that he never let his race define his career.

“I never see anything but the staunch American Charley Pride,” he mused.

“They says, ‘Charley, how did it feel to be the Jackie Robinson of country music? How did it feel to be the first colored country singer? How did it feel to be the first Negro country singer? How did it feel to be the first black country singer?’ It don’t bother me, other than I have to explain it to you how I maneuvered around all these obstacles to get to where I am today…. I’ve got a great-grandson and [grand] daughter and they gonna be asking them that too if we don’t get out of this crutch we’ve been in all these years… this ‘them’ and ‘us.’”

Pride’s made his final performance at the Country Music Association Awards on November 11th, performing a duet of ‘Kiss an Angel Good Mornin” with Jimmie Allen. A ceremony that saw him honoured with the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award.

Watch Charley Pride & Jimmie Allen perform ‘Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’ at the 2020 CMA Awards:

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The awards show has been criticized for unsafely hosting an event during the coronavirus pandemic. The ceremonywas held indoors, without masks.

In since-deleted tweet, country starlet Maren Morris criticised the event, “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. Rest in power, Charley.”

The CMAs defended the ceremony a statement, emphasising that it followed coronavirus safety protocols. “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.”

Lifelong friend and collaborator Dolly Parton was one of the first music contemporaries to pay tribute to Pride on social media, writing:

“I’m so heartbroken that one of my dearest and oldest friends, Charley Pride, has passed away. It’s even worse to know that he passed away from Covid-19. What a horrible, horrible virus. Charley, we will always love you. Rest In Peace. My love and thoughts go out to his family and all of his fans.”