Country music star Charley Pride dies of COVID-19

He was best known for being a Black trailblazer in a white-dominated industry.

Country music legend Charley Pride has died of COVID-19. He was 86.

Pride passed away from coronavirus complications on Saturday, December 12 in Dallas, Texas. Per his official Facebook page, he had been admitted to hospital in late November with COVID-19 symptoms and eventually succumbed to the virus. “Charley felt blessed to have such wonderful fans all over the world. And he would want his fans to take this virus very seriously,” the statement reads.

Pride was best known for being one of America’s first Black country music giants, combating prejudice through his music and becoming a role model to other African-American musicians. After a promising but short-lived baseball career, he was discovered by Chet Atkins of RCA Records and signed to said label in 1966. His single “Just Between You and Me” broke into the country Top 10 in 1967, earning Pride his first Grammy nomination and marking the start of his meteoric rise.

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Pride quickly became one of RCA Records’ most acclaimed artists with chart-topping hits such as “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’,” “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” and “Mountain of Love,” becoming second only to Elvis Presley in terms of record sales. In 1971 and 1972, he was named Entertainer of the Year and Top Male Vocalist by the Country Music Association (CMA). The same two years saw him sweeping three Grammy awards for his singles “Let Me Live” and “Did You Think to Pray” as well as the album Charley Pride Sings Hearts Songs.

In 1993, in recognition of his efforts, he became one of three black musicians to be inducted into the Grand Old Opry. On November 11 this year, he was presented with the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award at the CMA Awards in Nashville, where he performed “Kiss An Angel” with Jimmie Allen in what would be his last public performance.

The timing of Pride’s death raised speculations that he had contracted COVID-19 during the CMA Awards, which were criticised for being held indoors as well as the absence of masks or social distancing. In response, CMA representatives issued a statement affirming that all necessary precautions had been taken.

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“Everyone affiliated with the CMA Awards followed strict testing protocols outlined by the city health department and unions. Charley was tested prior to traveling to Nashville,” read the statement. “He was tested upon landing in Nashville, and again on show day, with all tests coming back negative. 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.”

Read tributes to Pride from fellow musicians and admirers below:

Pride is one of many acclaimed artists to have succumbed to COVID-19 recently, including Hal Ketchum, Wallace Roney and Ellis Marsalis Jr. Notably, country and Americana legend John Prine died from the virus in April.

RIP, Charley Pride. Listen to his Grammy-winning record Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs below:

 

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