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Charley Pride, Country Music’s First Black Superstar, Dies at 86

Charley Pride, a son of sharecroppers who rose to become country music’s first Black superstar with hits including “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’” and “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” died on Saturday in hospice care in Dallas. He was 86.

Jeremy Westby, a publicist for Mr. Pride, said the cause was complications of Covid-19.

Mr. Pride was not the first Black artist to record country music, but none of his predecessors had anywhere near the degree of success he enjoyed. In 1971, just four years after his first hit records, he won the Country Music Association’s entertainer of the year award — the genre’s highest honor.

Mr. Pride was born on March 18, 1934, in Sledge, Miss., to Tessie Stewart Pride and Mack Pride Sr. He served in the Army before working at a smelting plant and trying to make it as a baseball player.

In 1963, he went to Nashville and began his recording career. In 1965, he signed a contract with RCA Records.

Mr. Pride with an award from RCA Records in London in 1975.Credit…Associated Press

Two years later, his recording of “Just Between You and Me” became a Top 10 hit on Billboard’s country music charts. Only then did he quit his smelting job.

Last month in Nashville, Mr. Pride received the Country Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented to him by Jimmie Allen, a young Black country star. It was his last public performance.

Organizers of the event said they were “following all protocols” for dealing with Covid-19, but some in attendance were not wearing masks.

In the 20 years after his 1967 breakout hit, 51 more of Mr. Pride’s records reached the country Top 10, opening doors for other Black country music stars like Darius Rucker, who co-hosted this year’s CMA Awards. “No person of color had ever done what he has done,” Mr. Rucker said in a 2019 PBS documentary about Mr. Pride.

Mr. Pride himself wrote in his memoir, “Pride: The Charley Pride Story” (1994), “We’re not colorblind yet, but we’ve advanced a few paces along the path and I like to think I’ve contributed something to that process.”

He is survived by his wife, Ebby Rozene Cohran Pride, and his children, Carlton, Charles and Angela.

A complete obituary is forthcoming.

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