The music world has lost another legend.
According to Variety, Black country artist Charley Pride died Saturday at the age of 86. His publication relations team confirmed the tragedy to the outlet, stating Pride died at his Dallas home from complications due to COVID-19. His death came about a month after he performed at the 54th Annual Country Music Association Awards, where was also presented with the Lifetime Achievement award.
Pride began playing guitar during his teenage years, but had aspirations to become a professional baseball player. At the age of 19, he joined the Negro American League, serving as the pitcher for the Memphis Red Sox. He would go on to play for the Birmingham Black Barons as well as several minor league teams in between his military service.
During his time playing baseball, Pride visited the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, where he eventually began recording his songs. He would spend the following years playing at clubs, both as a solo artist as well as a member of a four-piece combo. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s when Pride landed a deal with RCA Records and released his first single “The Snakes Crawl at Night.” The 1966 song was followed by “Before I Met You” and “Just Between You and Me,” which peaked at No. 9 on the US country music charts.
In 1967, Pride made his Grand Ole Opry debut, and would become one of the show’s first official Black members.
Throughout his decades-long career, Pride would release more than 60 albums, sell 25 million records, secure dozens of No. 1 hits, and earn multiple music awards, including four Grammys and three American Music Awards. In 2000, Pride became the Black artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Though he’s undoubtedly a trailblazer, Pride explained to NPR in 2017 why he resisted the “pioneer” label.”
“I’ve never seen anything but the staunch American Charley Pride,” he says. “When I got into it, they used different descriptions. They’ll say, ‘Charley, how did it feel to be the Jackie Robinson of country music?’ or ‘How did it feel to be first colored 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 daughter, and they’re gonna be asking them that too if we don’t get out of this crutch we all been in all these years of trying to get free of all that, you see? ‘Y’all,’ ‘them’ and ‘us.'”
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