Charley Pride was the first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the first Black person to host the Country Music Association Awards

By Ally Mauch
December 12, 2020 04:20 PM
Advertisement
Charley Pride
| Credit: Joseph Llanes

Country legend Charley Pride — a pioneer for Black musicians in country music — died on Saturday in Dallas, Texas, at the age of 86 due to complications from COVID-19, a statement on his website confirmed.

With top hits including “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” and “Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone,” Pride became the first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.

He was born in Mississippi in 1934 as the son of a sharecropper. After a brief time serving in the Army and some unsuccessful attempts at becoming a professional baseball player, Pride headed to Nashville in 1963.

He recorded songs immediately but it wasn’t until Pride’s manager, Jack Johnson, met with late producer Jack Clement that Pride’s career took off. Clement offered songs for Pride to learn and in 1965, RCA Record's Chet Atkins signed him to a recording contract.

Pride quit his day job as a smelter when his 1967 recording of Clement’s “Just Between You and Me” broke into country’s top ten — and the rest is history. 

Credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images

In addition to earning three Grammy Awards during his career, Pride took home the entertainer of the year award at the 1971 Country Music Awards and won male vocalist of the year both that year and in 1972. In 1975, he became the first Black man to host the Country Music Association Awards.

“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.

His final performance was just last month when he was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the CMAs, which drew controversy for being held indoors despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Charley Pride at the 2020 CMAs
| Credit: Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

Pride hit the stage to perform his hit "Kiss an Angel Good Morning" and was joined by Jimmie Allen for a touching duet. Artists including Luke Combs and Eric Church sang along in the audience.

"Well, you might not believe but I'm nervous as can be. All the people have been influenced by my life, what my life has been influenced by, I got to say something about some of them," Pride said as he accepted the award, going on to list some of his influences, including Clement.

Country star Darius Rucker, who is Black, hosted the CMAs this year and said he was “honored” to be in attendance while Pride accepted his award.

Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Credit: Mike Prior/Redferns

"It's truly surreal," Rucker told fellow singer Rissi Palmer on the Color Me Country radio show prior to the November event. "I remember having a Charley Pride record in my mom's collection that I don't think my mom ever put on, but she bought that record because he was a Black man singing country music."

"Now, decades and decades later, to be a part of him getting an award ... There's nobody that deserves it more than Charley. Nobody. To be a part of that, I'm so honored. I'm honored to call him a friend," he added.

Following the news of his death, fellow country stars paid tribute to Pride and his legacy.

“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,” Dolly Parton wrote on Twitter.

“Rest In Peace. My love and thoughts go out to his family and all of his fans,” she added.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.