Charley Pride, the pioneering black country singer known for such hits as “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’” and “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” has died from complications related to Covid-19, according to his publicist. He was 86.
Born in Sledge, Mississippi, in 1934, Pride picked cotton, played baseball in the Negro league, served in the U.S. Army, and worked in a smelting plant in Montana before moving to Nashville and becoming country music’s first black superstar. He scored 52 Top 10 country hits, including 29 Number Ones, and was the first African-American performer to appear on the Grand Ole Opry stage since Deford Bailey made his debut in the 1920s. Pride became an Opry member in 1993. In 2000, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
After leaving the Army, Pride landed in Helena, Montana, where he continued to play baseball and took a job in a smelting plant. He also began singing in public, where he caught the ear of a local DJ who arranged for Pride to sing for country stars Red Sovine and Red Foley. The pair convinced him to move to Nashville and, in 1964, he signed a management deal with longtime manager Jack D. Johnson.The following year, he had his first Nashville recording session and, a month later, signed with the label RCA.
Pride’s debut single, “The Snakes Crawl at Night,” failed to chart, but his debut album, Country, reached the Top 20. His 1967 album The Pride of Country Music went on to hit Number One and, that same year, he became the first African-American solo singer to appear on the Opry. On April 29th, he made his national TV debut, appearing on Lawrence Welk’s Saturday-night ABC music series.
A lifelong disciple of Hank Williams, Pride’s debut on The Lawrence Welk Show presented his vibrant take on Williams’ 1949 hit “Lovesick Blues.” During a later appearance, Pride sang Lead Belly’s oft-covered folk tune “Cotton Fields,” a song that reminded him of his hard upbringing as a sharecropper’s son. “[It] reminds me of what I don’t ever go back to doing because it hurt my fingers and my back and my knees,” Pride said.
In a 2019 documentary about his life and career, Pride recalled performing a concert in Big Springs, Texas on April 4, 1968 — the date of Martin Luther King’s assassination. “I got onstage, nobody said nothin’,” Pride said. “They applauded, I got a standing ovation. I didn’t say nothin’ about nothin’ pertaining to what had happened. But it was hanging there, what had happened and me the only one there with these pigmentations. You don’t forget nothin’ like that.”
Just last month, Pride was honored by the Country Music Association with the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award. He performed on the telecast with country singer Jimmie Allen, recreating his 1971 chart-topper “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’.” It would be Pride’s final performance.
This story is developing.