Charley Pride, country music’s first black superstar, dead at 86 from COVID-19

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Charley Pride, the first black country music superstar, died Saturday of complications from COVID-19. He was 86.

The trailblazer charted 29 No. 1 hits and another 21 Top 10 singles between the 1960s and 1980s, including “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” and “Mountain of Love.” 

Pride enjoyed his greatest success in the 1970s, becoming the best-selling performer for RCA Records since Elvis Presley.

His final performance was on Nov. 11, when he received the Country Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award at Nashville’s Music City Center. He brought down the house with his hit “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’.” 

One of 11 children born to a sharecropper in Sledge, Mississippi, Pride served in the Army, worked at a Missouri smelting plant, and tried several times to break into big-league baseball — including pitching for the Yankees’ Birmingham farm club and a tryout with the Mets — before moving to Nashville in 1963. He recorded demo tapes soon afterward, but it was years before Chet Atkins signed him to a contract with RCA.

Pride won the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year award in 1971 and its top male vocalist prize in 1971 and 1972. He won three 1972 Grammys for a gospel single — “Let Me Live” on one side, “Did You Think to Pray” on the other — and a 1973 Grammy for best male country vocal performance, for his “Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs” album.

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