Another Legend Lost: Charley Pride, 1934-2020

Charley Pride was born on March 18, 1934, and died on December 12, 2020 from complications related to COVID-19.  Other than being 86, he had no outstanding health issues until he contracted it at a country music event in November.  (*)   Pride’s voice was a rarity, a deep baritone yet somehow with a nasal twang.  I’ve never heard anyone like him.  It made him immediately recognizable, regardless of who his backing band were.  Growing up in a rural town with two radio stations, one of them country, his songs were a regular part of my childhood and early teen years.

Pride played in the Negro Leagues back in the 1950s, and was a minor league baseball prospect for several MLB teams until leaving the game in 1962.  He began singing while in baseball, and met popular artists like Red Sovine who encouraged him and helped him make connections in the business.  Chet Atkins heard a demo tape in 1966 and gave him a recording contract and released his first single.  His early recordings contained no promotional photos for the obvious reason of racism in the 1960s.  His management wanted to music to be heard without bias.

From 1966 until 1984, 51 out of 54 of his singles reached the top ten on the US country music charts, 29 of them reaching #1.  Some sources say he had as many as 39 #1s, which is more than the Beatles and Michael Jackson combined.  And his success wasn’t limited to the country music charts, ten songs reached the top 100 on the mainsteam charts, most notably his biggest hit, “Kiss An Angel Good Morning”.

In 2008, many MLB teams did symbolic “drafting” of many famous Negro League players.  Pride was drafted by the Texas Rangers, fitting since he was from Texas.  He had appeared at spring training as a fan during and since the 1970s, even participating in practices.  In 2010, Pride was part of an 18 member group that bought the team along with Nolan Ryan.  Funny how the Rangers never appeared in the World Series until after the purchase.

Pride won several Grammy awards, Country music awards, was a member of the Grand Ol’ Opry, and is in the Country music hall of fame.  I mentioned Charley Pride in a comment on my post about Billy Squier.  I knew then he deserved more and better than that.

(* NO, that is not blaming or criticizing his decision to appear, it’s regret that’s he’s gone.)