In Memoriam: Charley Pride (1934-2020)

Charley Pride

Country Music Hall of Famer Charley Pride has died at the age of 86.

CBS News reports:

Charley Pride, country music’s first Black star whose rich baritone on such hits as “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” helped sell millions of records and made him the first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, has died. He was 86.

Pride died Saturday in Dallas of complications from COVID-19, according to Jeremy Westby of the public relations firm 2911 Media.

Charley Pride was featured in our 100 Greatest Men series several years ago:

Over the course of just fourteen years, Charley Pride accumulated 29 #1 country hits, proof positive that his switch from professional baseball to music was the right one.

Pride hailed from Sledge, Mississippi, one of eleven sharecropper children.  He was a guitar player early on, but he first made his name in baseball, playing in both the Negro League and on several minor league baseball teams, including the Memphis Red Sox and the Boise Yankees.   His career was derailed by a stint in the Army, followed by an arm injury that made his signature pitching an impossibility.   He worked construction while unsuccessfully auditioning for baseball teams, then turned his attention to music.

Country music was his style of choice, despite the lack of African-American performers who’d found success within the genre.  He auditioned for Red Sovine, who recommended he move to Nashville.  Shortly thereafter, he was signed to RCA by Chet Atkins.   Pride found success quickly, with his first single, “Just Between You and Me”, reaching the top ten and earning a Grammy nomination.   Pride soon entered his greatest period of commercial success, releasing ten gold albums between the years of 1967 and 1972.

Many of his hits during that time went on to become country classics, but none were bigger than his 1971 smash, “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’.”   That Grammy-winning hit spent five weeks at #1, crossed over to the pop chart, won a Grammy, and sold a million copies.  Coupled with its predecessor, “I’m Just Me”, it helped Pride win the CMA Male Vocalist of the Year award twice and Entertainer of the Year once.

Pride continued to dominate the charts throughout the seventies and the first half of the eighties, receiving huge critical acclaim for his album of Hank Williams covers in 1980.   One of his final #1 hits, “You’re So Good When You’re Bad”, received renewed airplay and sales when it was featured at length on the television series Designing Women.   By the nineties, Pride was a star headliner in Branson, Missouri, and a newly minted Opry member in 1993.  He also remained active in baseball, as part owner of the Texas Rangers.

Pride continues to perform today, and is still picking up accolades along the way.  He was given the ACM Pioneer Award in 1994, inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000, and was inducted into the Cowboy of Color Hall of Fame in 2006.

I’m absolutely heartbroken over this news.  Charley Pride was a favorite of my mother’s, and I loved his catalog once I had the chance to really explore it.  A once in a generation talent.

For those who want to learn more, I strongly recommend the following two videos from PBS:

  • Charley Pride’s story, as told to Ken Burns in the Country Music documentary
  • Charley Pride: I’m Just Me, an hourlong documentary included in the American Masters series

Our prayers are with Charley Pride’s family, friends, and fans.

Please share your favorite Charley Pride music and memories in the comments.

6 Comments

  1. Charley Pride was the first country artists I felt belonged only to me. He was my star. My parents didn’t have any of his music in their collection. I discovered his music through the radio in the early 1980’s. Tasked by Mr. Carlson, my seventh grade English teacher, to write a biography of a living celebrity, I chose Charley Pride. Mr. Carlson mailed out our final drafts to our subjects. I still have the letter I received from his office, signed by Charley Pride himself. I checked his vinyl albums out from the Rockford Road Library in Crystal, Minnesota as a pre-teen and remember excitedly sharing them with my mom as we listened to them on her old wooden console Magnavox stereo from the 1960’s. I first discovered country music combing through her record collection which included albums by Roy Drusky, Jim Reeves, and Ray Charles “Modern Sounds in Country Music.” A K-Tel-type of Charley Pride Greatest Hits collection was one of the first albums I ever bought on my own. My first cassette purchases were all of his various greatest hits collection. I saved money from my first job to but tickets for my mom and I to attend a performance of his at the Carleton Celebrity Dinner Theater in Minneapolis but the theatre went bankrupt in 1986 before Pride’s scheduled performance. I remember my mom bawling someone from the theatre out on the phone when the theatre wouldn’t refund her youngest son’s money earned from his first job and spent on Charley Pride tickets. Charley Pride is on my personal Mt. Rushmore of important country music artists. His death, and the loss to the country community, hurt more than most. Thank you, Mr. Pride, for the music and memories.

  2. During the 1960s and 1970s, Charley Pride, Merle Haggard & Buck Owens ran neck and neck as my favorite country artists. All three would issue three or four albums a year and I would race out to pick their latest albums as soon as they were locally available (Eckert Drug Stores in Florida seemed to have the best prices and quickest availability), keeping me perpetually broke

    During the first two decades of digital music, Pride was shamefully underrepresented in the market place, but in recent years virtually his entire catalogue has been made available by European labels (mostly BGO, but some others have chipped in) once again sending me to the poorhouse – but it was worth it.

    I regret that I never got to see him live (twice I bought tickets and both times my wife was hospitalized, so I could not attend), but I dig into his recordings with great frequency and will forever treasure his legacy of recorded music and his legacy as a pioneer of the genre

  3. I think it was Charley Pride’s spirited, live recording of “Kaw-Liga” (from 1969) that led my family to discover the man and his music and become 50-year-long fans. My favorite songs of his are too numerous to list, though I’m beyond perplexed to contemplate how two of them that I immediately associate with Pride’s biggest hits — “The Snakes Crawl at Night” and “Crystal Chandeliers” — apparently never charted as radio singles.

    Though Charley Pride’s passing deeply hurts, it comforts me to know he lived a long, rich, and impactful life and enjoyed the adoration of millions of admirers. May he rest in peace.

  4. The first song I remember by Charley Pride was Kaw Liga – my sister and I used to sing it all the time when we were young. There were many, many more songs we both grew to love that he sang over the years. He had such a smooth voice, such a great style, such a presence.

    So sad to hear of his passing. His music was a fixture in my house growing up. My prayers to his family and loved ones.

  5. Yet more awful news in a year already crowded with terrible losses in the country music world. Like Joe Diffie earlier this year, hearing this news hit be just as hard.

    I came to love and enjoy Charley Pride’s music through my step dad, who was a big fan. “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” was still getting some decent recurrent airplay during my childhood in the early 90’s, and every time it came on, he would never fail to happily sing along. That song, plus “Is Anybody Going To San Antone” and “I’m Just Me” were also on an old 8 track tape full of 70’s country songs that we dug out one time that I would always love to play. He and I always enjoyed and got a kick out of his version of “Kaw-Liga,” as well. Another one of my personal favorites from earlier in his career is “I’d Rather Love You.”

    Besides the traditional country he did in the 60’s and early 70’s, I also enjoy many of his more contemporary hits from the late 70’s and 80’s like “Burgers And Fries,” “Where Do I Put Her Memory,” “Missin’ You,” “Roll On Mississippi,” “Mountain Of Love,” “I Don’t Think She’s In Love Anymore,” “You’re So Good When You’re Bad,” “Never Been So Loved (In All My Life)” and “Shouldn’t It Be Easier Than This.” He pulled off both styles very well and with class, imo.

    RIP Charley, You’ll definitely be missed!

  6. Rolling Stone, which usually does a poor to fair job of covering country music, posted an article titled CHARLEY PRIDE: TEN ESSENTIAL SONGS. They did a pretty good job this time

    The Snakes Crawl At Night
    Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone
    (I’m So) Afraid of Losing You Again
    Mississippi Cotton Pickin’ Delta Town
    Does My Ring Hurt your Finger
    All I Have to Offer you (Is Me)
    Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’
    Just Between You and Me
    Roll On Mississippi
    Mountain of Love

    These would easily all be in my top fifteen but I would slot “It’s Gonna Take A Little bit Longer” and “I’d Rather Love You” in the top five

    Here’s the link with the rather nice writeups

    https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-country-lists/charley-pride-10-essential-songs-1102997/roll-on-mississippi-1981-1103020/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.