Legendary country singer Charley Pride died from complications of covid-19 on Saturday. He was 86.
Pride, whom Rolling Stone describes as country music’s first Black superstar, was born in Sledge, Mississippi, in 1934. The son of a sharecropper who worked at a Montana smelting plant and played baseball in the Negro leagues before moving to Nashville to pursue music, he went on to top the country music charts for decades, releasing nine no. 1 albums and 29 no. 1 singles like 1970's “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” 1971's “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’,” and many, many more.
As a celebrated Black musician in a predominantly white sector of the music industry, Pride broke significant ground throughout his career. He was the first Black solo singer to perform on the Grand Ole Opry stage in 1967, and the first Black performer to appear on that stage, period, since DeFord Bailey four decades prior, Rolling Stone notes.
A three-time Grammy winner, Pride became an Opry member in 1993 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000. In November, he was honored with the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award at the 54th Annual Country Music Association Awards ceremony, at which he performed “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’” with “Best Shot” singer Jimmie Allen.
“I’m so heartbroken that one of my dearest and oldest friends, Charley Pride, has passed away,” tweeted Dolly Parton, who recorded a duet of her 1977 track, “God’s Coloring Book,” with Pride for the late singer’s 2006 album, Pride & Joy: A Gospel Music Collection. “It’s even worse to know that he passed away from covid-19. What a horrible, horrible virus. Charley, we will always love you.”
While the country world mourns Pride’s passing, a number of the industry’s younger stars have voiced concerns that his performance at last month’s CMAs might have led to the late singer contracting covid-19.
“I don’t want to jump to conclusions because no family statement has been made,” wrote Maren Morris in a since-deleted tweet, per Deadline. “But if this was a result of the CMAs being indoors, we should all be outraged. Rest in power, Charley,”
“I thought the same damn thing,” Mickey Guyton replied. In a separate tweet, she added that “we need answers as to how Charley Pride got covid.”
Unlike other awards shows organized during the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s CMAs were held indoors. Many stars attended in person, Deadline notes, sitting at tables with their faces uncovered.
The CMA released a statement in response to public speculation, per Page Six: “Everyone affiliated with the CMA Awards followed strict testing protocols outlined by the city health department and unions. Charley was tested prior to traveling to Nashville. He was tested upon landing in Nashville, and again on show day, with all tests coming back negative. After returning to Texas following the CMA Awards, Charley again tested negative multiple times.”
“All of us in the Country Music community are heartbroken by Charley’s passing,” the statement continued. “Out of respect for his family during their grieving period, we will not be commenting on this further.”
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