It’s with great sadness that we report today that Charley Pride, the man behind “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” and is the latest country star to pass away - on December 12, 2020 - due to complications from the COVID-19 Coronavirus. he was 86.
The trailblazer didn’t start out as a singer but rather a baseball pitcher with designs on Major League Baseball. Born on March 18, 1934, on a 40-acre sharecropping farm in Sledge, Mississippi. Charley was the fourth of 11 children of Tessie (Stewart) Pride and Mack Pride, Sr. His father had meant to name him Charl, but the clerical error on his birth certificate officially left him with the first name of Charley.
After making money picking cotton, Charley bought his first guitar — at age 14 — from Sears & Roebuck. It was his father’s love of the music of the Grand Ole Opry which steered Charley away from the Mississippi Blues and towards a devotion to Hank Williams and Roy Acuff.
That career as baseball player lead Charley to the Memphis Red Sox, Boise Yankees, and more throughout his early life as a teenaged pitcher and eventually drafted into the service for two years in the 1950s. While in Helena, Montana, where he was playing semi-pro baseball, Charley also started singing and drew attention with demo recordings.
Eventually, after teaming up with “Cowboy” Jack Clement in 1965, Chet Atkins took notice and signed Charley Pride to RCA Records. By the time Charley released his third single “Just Between You And Me,” he had his first Top 10 hit, the start of a streak which would last another two plus decades with numerous hits and the most records sold for RCA, second only at the label to Elvis Presley himself. “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’,” was Charley’s 8th #1 country single and his only song to cross over to the po charts and that year, 1971, he was named CMA Entertainer and Male Vocalist of the year, in addition to winning two Grammy awards in the sacred and gospel performance categories for “Let Me Live” and “Did You Think to Pray,” respectively.
It took a while but by 1993, Charley was inducted to the Grand Ole Opry, the first black member since early Opry Star DeFord Bailey, who played the harmonica and starred on the show from 1927 to 1941. Darius Rucker became the third black member in 2012.
Pride’s career in country music was historic in that he broke barriers at the time he started, although the label refused to show what Charley Pride looked like to many radio programmers and fans early on in his career. There were times, too, when he couldn’t book the gigs he should’ve because of his skin color. A foolish but serious notion then was never played up by Charley himself. He just went about his business, even if it meant playing to smaller audiences than the biggest star of country music should’ve been playing to.
In the end, audiences loved and adored Charley Pride and we will forever miss him. He released an album in 2019 and had finished tracking a new record with songwriter/producer Billy Yates prior to COVID-19 and there’s hope they’ll be able to bring those songs back to audiences. Earlier this year Charley recorded songs with both Jimmie Allen (also with Darius Rucker) and Garth Brooks and a mere month before passing away Charley was honored with a special CMA Award where the current generation performed for Charley.
In 2017, Charley Pride received a lifetime achievement award from the Grammy Awards and was, in 2008, honored by Major League Baseball for his part in the Negro Leagues, a league which the same week of his death also announced that all Negro Leagues were considered Major Leagues, thus making Charley a former Major League Ball Player, something he and his family — including his Negro League playing brother Mack Jr — are certainly very proud of.
In addition to his wife, Charley Pride is survived by his sons Carlton and Dion, daughter Angela Rozene Pride, two brothers, Stephen and Harmon; two sisters, Catherine Sanders and Maxine Pride; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.