Country music trailblazer Charley Pride died Saturday at the age of 86 of complications of COVID-19. News of Pride's death was first announced through the singer’s website.
Known for breaking systemic racial barriers in the country music industry, Pride became a celebrated name in a predominantly white genre. Hits such as “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’” and “Just Between You and Me” helped propel the North Texas resident to numerous Grammys and other highly regarded country music awards.
Pride was born on March 18, 1934, in Sledge, Mississippi. He started a family in Montana, but made Texas his eventual home. Outside of music, Pride was a predominant figure in Major League Baseball as a one-time part-owner of the Texas Rangers and as a frequent performer of the National Anthem at the team’s home games. An avid baseball fan, Pride played in the Negro American League, pursuing a career in baseball in his youth.
Reggie Rueffer played multiple instruments in Pride’s band for over 13 years. Rueffer called Pride’s approach to music "smooth, folksy and engaging for his audiences," a rarity Rueffer seldom sees in country music today.
“He had a folksy country sense about him,” Rueffer says. “Folksy ... not in a Bob Dylan way, more in a common-man feel.”
Pride’s simple, inviting approach to music eased a lot of the racial prejudices in the country scene at a time when it was needed, Rueffer says, earning Pride comparisons to the likes of Jackie Robinson.
Last month, Pride accepted the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award at the much-criticized 2020 Country Music Association Awards, the first Black man to receive such an honor. Pride’s performance at the scaled-down award ceremony was his last televised production.
Nelson performed with Pride in 1967 at Panther Hall in a sign of racial solidarity; the accompanying album is regarded by critics as one of the best country records ever recorded.
Pride leaves behind a wife, Ebby Rozene Cohran Pride, who Rueffer referred to as a "sweet and kind" woman who ensured that her husband’s bandmates had quality healthcare and frequently stuffed hundred dollar bills in their pockets.
Pride is the father of Carlton Kraig Pride, Charles Dion Pride and Angela Rozene Pride, grandfather to Carlton Kraig Pride, Jr., Malachi Pride, Syler Pride, Ebby Pride, and Arrentino Vassar and great-grandfather to Skyler Pride and Carlton Kraig Pride, III.
Studio musician Milo Deering, who oversees the studio that housed Pride’s recording sessions, Acoustic Kitchen Studios, worked with Pride on a number of occasions.
“Pride’s sound was distinct and rich,” Deering says. “He was an original.”
The last time Deering saw Pride was when country artist Garth Brooks stopped by to perform a track for his upcoming album, Fun.
Hardly compared to a music town like Nashville, the Dallas studio didn’t see many big artists like Brooks and Pride, and this wasn’t lost on Deering who cherished the last time he saw Pride — albeit from a safe and social distance.
The last time Rueffer saw Pride was in July, when the singer’s former bassist, guitarist and fiddler gave violin lessons to his great-granddaughter. Though the majority of their relationship remained professional, Rueffer says, he was happy to help Pride’s family during their last get-together, where he remembers Pride had a twinkle in his eye.
“It was a good visit,” Rueffer said. “I’m glad it ended on good notes.”