Legendary Country Singer Charlie Pride-Part Owner of Texas Rangers Dies of COVID at Age 86

FILE PHOTO: Country singer Charley Pride waves to baseball fans during a pre-game ceremony honoring former Negro Leagues baseball players in San Diego, California May 31, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Trailblazer Charley Pride, country musics first Black megastar, has died due to complications related to COVID-19. He was 86.

Public relations firm 2911 Media confirmed that Pride died on Dec. 12 in Dallas, Texas.

Legendary Pride charted 29 No. 1 hits and another 21 Top 10 singles between the 1960s and 1980s, including “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” and “Mountain of Love.” 

Pride enjoyed his greatest success in the 1970s, becoming the best-selling performer for RCA Records since Elvis Presley.

One of 11 children born to a sharecropper in Sledge, Mississippi, Pride served in the Army, worked at a Missouri smelting plant, and tried several times to break into big-league baseball — including pitching for the Yankees’ Birmingham farm club and a tryout with the Mets — before moving to Nashville in 1963. He recorded demo tapes soon afterward, but it was years before Chet Atkins signed him to a contract with RCA records.

Pride won the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year award in 1971 and its top male vocalist prize in 1971 and 1972. He won three 1972 Grammys for a gospel single — “Let Me Live” on one side, “Did You Think to Pray” on the other — and a 1973 Grammy for best male country vocal performance, for his “Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs” album.

In 2000, he became the first black performer elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Pride left RCA in 1986 and was the first act signed to 16th Avenue Records, a division of Opryland. His last Top 5 hit, “Shouldn’t It Be Easier Than This,” was released in 1987.

In 1967, Pride became the first black performer to appear at the Grand Ole Opry in more than a quarter century. In 1976, he broke a de facto touring ban in Northern Ireland during the height of the Troubles, with his “Crystal Chandeliers” becoming a unity song for Irish people on both sides of the conflict.

“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,” Pride wrote in his 1994 memoir, “Pride.”

His final performance was on Nov. 11, when he received the Country Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award at Nashville’s Music City Center. He brought down the house with his hit “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’.” 

When Pride was 14, his mother purchased his first guitar and he taught himself to play. Though he loved music, one of Pride’s lifelong dreams was to become a professional baseball player. In 1952, he pitched for the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League. 

Though Pride’s career took a different path, he never lost his love for baseball. He served as a member of the National Advisory Board for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. 

Pride was also an avid fan and part owner of the Texas Rangers.

Surviving are his wife, Ebby Rozene Cohran Pride; four siblings; three children; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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