On December 12, we lost Charley Pride at the age of 86 from COVID-19. The prior month, he performed and received the CMA Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award at the 54th Annual Country Music Association Awards, hosted by Reba McEntire and Darius Rucker. Charley was a friend of Goldmine, participating in multiple interviews in recent years. In his 2014 Goldmine interview Charley said, “I love Darius Rucker. He is from Hootie and The Blowfish! Darius is a great songwriter. I remember a fun time when we were both sitting backstage at the Opry singing together, before a show.” Darius Rucker said that Charley Pride destroyed barriers, did things that no one had done and considered him one of the finest people who he has known.
In the 1950s, Charley was a baseball pitcher for the Negro American League until he was drafted into military service. While on leave in 1956, he married his wife Rozene. After his time in the Army, Charley returned to baseball and ultimately focused on music. In the mid-1960s, he debuted in the country Top 10 on RCA with “Just Between You and Me” written by his manager and producer Jack Clement.
Bill Anderson shared, “Like the rest of the world, I am shocked and saddened to learn about the death of Charley Pride. He and I went back to the early days of his career in 1966 when he made his first nationwide appearance as a guest on my syndicated television show. In later years, we toured together, shared music and argued baseball endlessly. I saw firsthand some of his early struggles as the first major black performer in country music. My admiration for the way he handled himself during those years knows no bounds. I've lost a hero and a friend."
By the end of the 1960s, after several consecutive Top 10 hit singles, Charley achieved his first of 29 No. 1 singles with “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me),” followed by “(I’m So) Afraid of Losing You Again.” Early 1970 began with his third No. 1 single “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” a big fan favorite, which was covered the following year by Nancy Sinatra, as the flip side of her “Hook and Ladder” single, and twice by Doug Sahm, first in 1973 by Doug Sahm and Band and in 1991 by when Doug was a member of the country quartet Texas Tornados. The flip side of Charley’s original recording of “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” was an optimistic post break-up song with homespun lyrics called “Things are Looking Up.”
Flip side: Things Are Looking Up
A side: Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone
Top 100 debut: March 14, 1970
Peak position: No. 70 Pop, No. 1 Country
RCA Victor 47-9806
At the end of 1970, Charley’s classic album Christmas in My Home Town was released, featuring the title song, “They Stood in Silent Prayer,” and other originals mixed with his versions of classic holiday songs.
In 1971, Charley crossed over to the pop Top 40 with his sole gold single and Grammy song winner “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’,” from his Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs album, written by Ben Peters. In his 2017 Goldmine interview Charley said, “Ben’s a great writer. I’ve recorded so many of his songs. I’m in the business of selling lyrics, feelings and emotions, with all the clarity I can give each line, along with the music.”
In 1983, Charley’s string of No. 1 hits for RCA concluded with “Night Games.” The following year began a string of fourteen No. 1 hits for the label by The Judds. Naomi Judd said, “Charley Pride was a true gentleman. I remember talking with him backstage about how proud he was standing up for his rights. He likened it to Rosa Parks refusing to go to the back of the bus."
Charley’s hit singles continued through 1989 with “Amy’s Eyes.” Over the years he continued performing, recording, and winning several awards and honors.
Charley is survived by his wife Rozene, their two sons, daughter and grandchildren.