Vocalist Charley Pride, the first modern black superstar of country music, has died at 86.
Public relations firm 2911 Media confirmed that Pride died on December 12 in Dallas, Texas from complications related to COVID-19.
Pride had just been seen by millions on live TV in November as he received a lifetime achievement award from the Country Music Association on its annual telecast.
It was on that November 11 telecast that he did his final performance, a duet of his classic Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’ with Jimmie Allen, a rising black star in country who expressed his indebtedness to his predecessor.
Pride followed that with a lengthy and heartfelt speech as the small audience of nominees and their guests stood in rapt attention.
All the performers on the CMA Awards telecast were said to have undergone repeated COVID-19 tests prior to appearing, and several dropped out as a result of testing positive.
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. (1/2)
— Dolly Parton (@DollyParton) December 12, 2020
CMA representatives said at the time that none of the performers who tested positive had entered the footprint of the production area for the telecast.
Maren Morris, who also performed on the CMAs and was the leading winner, was among those quick to wonder if there could be a connection, with Pride apparently contracting COVID-19 so soon after appearing on the show.
“I don’t want to jump to conclusions because no family statement has been made,” Morris tweeted, “but if this was a result of the CMAs being indoors, we should all be outraged. Rest in power, Charley”.
A 2000 inductee in the Country Music Hall of Fame and a three-time Grammy winner, Pride was not the first country performer to cross racial lines.
But none enjoyed the massive appeal of Pride tallied 29 No.1 country chart hits and another 21 top-10 country entries for RCA Records between 1966 and 1984. Chart guru Joel Whitburn ranks him as the No.3 hit-producing artist of the ’70s, behind Conway Twitty and Merle Haggard.
His keen interpretation of deftly penned honky tonk songs kept him at the top for nearly two decades.
“He was the right singer at the right time in history,” wrote country music historian Bill C. Malone of his remarkable success.
He was born in Sledge, Mississippi as one of 11 children, and laboured as a boy as a cotton picker on a tenant farm.
He is survived by his wife, Rozene, two sons and a daughter.