Dallas singer Charley Pride, who broke country’s color line, dies at 86

Charley Pride, the legendary Dallas singer known for his velvety baritone who breaks the color line in country music, died on Saturday. He was 86 years old.

According to Jeremy Westby of PR firm 2911 Media, Pride died in Dallas as a result of COVID-19.

From 1966 to 1987, Pride was one of the biggest stars in country music, scoring 52 top 10 country hits, including 29 top charts. More than a dozen of his songs hit the pop charts, including “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin” and “Is Anybody Goin ‘to San Antone”. He was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame, won four Grammys, and sold an estimated 70 million records – more than anyone at RCA other than Elvis.

Former President George W. Bush welcomed Pride on Saturday. Not only did Bush love his music, he got to know Pride during the years the former president served as managing partner of Texas Rangers, of which Pride was a huge fan.

“Charley Pride was a good gentleman with a great voice,” Bush said in a statement Saturday to the Dallas Morning News. “Laura and I love his music and the spirit behind it. He also knew baseball: Charley was a huge Texas Rangers fan and a player himself. Laura and I extend our condolences to the sons and daughter of Charley and Rozene, their extended family and their countless fans. May God bless Charley Pride. “

“Charley Pride was the sweetest soul, incredibly humble and giving with time,” said Justin Frizzell, morning host at 95.9 FM The Ranch and longtime friend of the singer. “I always tell people that Charley Pride acted in such a way that he didn’t know he was Charley Pride. A pure pleasure to be here. “

Pride fused traditional country music with pop leanings and refined production styles, making its records irresistible to radio programmers. Despite his long hit streak and rich, mellow baritone voice, he is perhaps best known for being the first great black artist in the largely alabaster world of country music.

Country star Charley Pride at his studios in Dallas on September 24, 2012.Country star Charley Pride at his studios in Dallas on September 24, 2012.

Once referred to as “the country’s Jackie Robinson,” Pride grew tired of endless questions about his skin color and preferred to talk about his music.

“They used to ask me what it felt like to be the ‘first color country singer’. Then it was “first negro country singer”, then “first black country singer”. Now I’m the “first African American country singer”. That’s about the only thing that has changed. This country is so racially conscious and full of colors and pigments. I call it “skin problems” – it’s a disease, “he told The News in 1992.

Last month, Pride received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award at the Country Music Association Awards in Nashville, making it the first black artist to receive the award since its inception in 2012.

The scaled-down version of the awards took place at the Music City Center Convention Hall, not the usual Bridgestone arena, under nervous circumstances, as several musicians dropped out after testing positive for COVID-19. (“We literally tested everyone: stage workers, production team, our employees, and talent,” CMA executive director Sarah Trahern told Billboard.) The Country Music Association’s message, titled “No Drama, Just Music,” was also criticized for fans in one Year of historic protests against racial inequality.

The November 11th ABC broadcast of the Awards was Pride’s last major performance. Up-and-coming black country star Jimmie Allen introduced him and said, “Here’s the truth, I might never have had a career in country music unless a truly groundbreaking artist did his best and wrote the best story in our genre would have . “Then the two sang a duet of” Kiss an Angel Good Mornin ‘”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxM4GDimobE

“Well, you might not believe it, but I’m as nervous as possible,” said Pride in his acceptance speech afterwards.

Charley Frank Pride was born in Sledge, Miss., March 18, 1934. Pride was one of eleven children raised by parents. He sang from a young age, but his first real talents were pitching, fielding and hitting.

As a teenager working on the farm, he dreamed of following Jackie Robinson in the major leagues: “I said, ‘Here’s my way out of the cotton fields,'” he told National Public Radio in 2017.

Pride left Mississippi in the 1950s to play in the Negro Leagues, and eventually played for teams in Memphis, Idaho, Wisconsin and Birmingham, Ala., Where he and another player were traded for a team bus, according to Pride’s 1994 autobiography Pride : The Charley Pride Story, written with Jim Henderson.

He took aim at the majors and even tried the California Angels and New York Mets, but injuries kept him out of the big leagues. With the encouragement of his coaches and country star Red Foley, Pride launched his music career while he was still playing baseball.

He started humbly, performing at nightclubs near Montana, playing for the Missoula Timberjacks and later working in construction and a lead smelter.

Pride’s big break came in 1965 when he traveled to Nashville and persuaded Chet Atkins to sign him with RCA Records. His first single “The Snakes Crawl At Night” flopped. In 1966 he landed a Top 10 hit and a Grammy nomination with his third single “Just Between You And Me”. From that point on, his career skyrocketed.

On October 4, 2000, Charley Pride performed while being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame at the Country Music Association Awards ceremony at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville.On October 4, 2000, Charley Pride performed while being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame at the Country Music Association Awards ceremony at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville.(CHARLIE NEIBERGALL)

For the next 20 years, Pride was one hit after another with songs like “Mississippi Cotton Picking Delta Town”, the reggae style “You’re My Jamaica” and his top version of Hank Williams’ “Honky Tonk Blues”. ”He won a Gospel Grammy for his song“ Let Me Live ”from 1971.

Critics called his shiny country-pop sound “countryypolitan”. But Pride never tried to hide the twang and drawl in his singing voice, and he was very proud of his southern roots.

“I’m really the epitome of American music, from gospel to blues to country, but country was the music I emulated the most,” he told The News.

In 1967 he was the second black musician to appear on the Grand Ole Opry after harmonica player DeFord Bailey. Two years later, when his career exploded, Pride decided he had to move from Montana to an area with a larger airport: while considering returning to the deep south, he and his wife Rozene decided Dallas because it seemed more progressive . The couple lived in a sprawling home in north Dallas for many years.

“I grew up in a separate society and didn’t want to force my three children to do it,” he told The News in 2017. “We’ve figured out what we think is the best place for the kids and for travel around the world, and there’s no better place for that than Dallas. “

Charley Pride sang the national anthem before the Texas Rangers competed against the Colorado Rockies on opening day at Globe Life Field on July 24, 2020.Charley Pride sang the national anthem before the Texas Rangers competed against the Colorado Rockies on opening day at Globe Life Field on July 24, 2020.(Smiley N. Pool / Employee Photographer)

When Pride started in Nashville, some people struggled with the concept of a black singer who essentially played the music of the southern white people. In a 2017 interview with National Public Radio, Pride recalled a Nashville publicist who told him, “You look like her, but you sound like us.”

In most interviews, however, Pride downplayed the role of skin color in his career, saying he was never taunted or booed by white audiences.

“Whenever I tell writers this, they look at me as if they think I am lying. But why should I lie? I am a success. It would be a really sensational story if I talked about how this person called me and this person called me, but it never happened. Not once, ”he told The News.

Pride achieved its greatest success in 1971 with “Kiss to Angel Good Mornin”, which sold a million copies and went to number 21 on the pop charts, introducing it to a whole new audience. In the same year he won CMA Awards for Entertainer of the Year and Top Male Vocalist.

After more than two decades of chart dominance, Pride split from RCA in the ’80s and scored his final hit with “Moody Woman” in 1989. Like many aging country legends, he talked about an industry obsessed with young stars .

“Country music is increasingly becoming pop music. They play the same 20 records over and over again. Here I sing better than ever and I can’t even get a record deal, ”he told The News in 1992.

When Pride wasn’t working, he could often be seen spotting the Texas Rangers. He owned a small percentage of the club since 2010 and coached the team for years during spring training. He often played the national anthem at major Rangers games, most recently in July at the first regular season competition at Globe Life Field.

The Rangers plan to hoist flags at Globe Life Field and Globe Life Park with half the workforce on Sunday and Monday. In a statement on Saturday, the team said Pride’s “first love was baseball”.

“Mr. Proud was a true gentleman, and we will never forget the lasting contributions he made to the Texas Rangers organization,” the team said.

Long-time Dallas radio employee Mike Rhyner, who spent seven years at KZEW-FM and 26 years at sports radio station The Ticket, shared a passion for baseball and music with Pride.

“His tentacles had a certain range – he was in country music, he was in baseball, he had a lot of other interests, but most of all it seemed like there wasn’t anyone who didn’t know him, and if you knew him, was it’s impossible not to like him, “said Rhyner.

“What always struck me about him was how he could read a room and how easily he fit in anywhere, and he did it without noticeably changing the fabric of who he was. He was the same every time I was around – although he probably had no idea about me. Not an easy trick. “

The pride never stopped appearing. He continued to release new albums and toured well into his 80s.

As Pride The News said in 2017, “When you go on stage and have a whole audience sing a backup to every word of your song, it’s one of those things that gets in your blood. You just love it and it’s hard to stop. “

Michael Granberry, Evan Grant, and Kelly Dearmore contributed to this report.

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