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Charley Pride, the boundary-breaking performer of such hits as "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'" and an icon of country music, died Saturday in Dallas of complications from COVID-19. He was 86.
Known for his rich baritone voice, Pride was the first Black artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and only the second Black artist to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. Pride was born to sharecroppers in Sledge, Miss. in 1934, the fourth of 11 children, and pursued a career in baseball before turning to music. In 1965, his demo recordings caught the attention of legendary Nashville musician Chet Atkins, who secured Pride a contract with RCA.
"I went into the studio, and I did a demo. And after that, my producer Jack Clement says, 'What do you want to do?'" Pride recalled in 2019. "I said, 'I want to go into the studio and make the best records I can make, go out on stage and do them the best I can.'"
Pride's first hit single, "Just Between You and Me," was released in 1967, reaching the top 10 on the U.S. country charts and earning him a Grammy nomination. A string of successful songs followed, including “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’,” “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” and “Mountain of Love,” with more than 50 landing in the Billboard country chart's top 10 and 36 hitting No. 1. He also received 12 more Grammy nominations and three wins between 1967 and 1979, and became RCA's best-selling artist since Elvis Presley.
Pride was considered a trailblazer for artists of color in country music, often called the genre's first Black superstar. “No person of color had ever done what he has done,” Darius Rucker said of Pride in the 2019 PBS documentary Charley Pride: I’m Just Me.
Pride received many more accolades throughout his career, including a a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017, and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1993. He also continued to record and perform until his death; on Nov. 11, he sang “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’” on the 2020 CMA Awards, in what would ultimately be his final public performance. He was also honored with the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award at the ceremony.
In his acceptance speech, Pride cited his influences and thanked his fans, a portrait of humility despite his decades of success. "All my fans, I want to say thank you," he said. "I'm through talkin', I guess. Just gonna thank everybody again."