US country music star Charley Pride, a pioneering Black singer who racked up 29 number one hits, died Saturday of COVID-19 complications. He was 86.
Pride’s family confirmed his death in a statement, saying he had passed away in Dallas, Texas.
Born in racially segregated Mississippi in 1934, Pride was known for 1970s hits including “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'” and was the first African American to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Signed to RCA Records, he became the label’s biggest-selling performer since Elvis Presley.
Tributes poured in from country music luminaries in the wake of the news, with Dolly Parton saying she was “heartbroken”.
I’m so heartbroken that one of my dearest and oldest friends, Charley Pride, has passed away. It’s even worse to know that he passed away from COVID-19. What a horrible, horrible virus. Charley, we will always love you. (1/2)
— Dolly Parton (@DollyParton) December 12, 2020
“Charley, we will always love you,” she wrote in a tweet.
Singer Billy Ray Cyrus hailed Pride’s role as a “true trailblazer”.
The last time I spoke to my good friend and legend Charley Pride. We met in ‘92 playing shows together in Australia. His beloved sweetheart Rosie by his side. A gentleman… legend and true trail blazer. With much respect #RIP pic.twitter.com/dewMqcC6Rk
— Billy Ray Cyrus (@billyraycyrus) December 12, 2020
“He took down walls and barriers meant to divide,” he said. “He became a bridge of music for music lovers who found they had way more in common than they had different.”
Former US president George W. Bush also paid tribute, in a statement praising Pride as a “fine gentleman with a great voice”.
Pride’s death from COVID-19 came a month after he accepted an award at the 54th annual Country Music Association Awards in Nashville.
Organizers in the wake of the news defended their decision to go ahead with the event despite the pandemic, saying Pride had tested negative prior to attending.
In a statement on his official Facebook page, Pride’s family said he “felt blessed to have such wonderful fans all over the world.”
“And he would want his fans to take this virus very seriously,” they said.
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