Charley Pride, known as country's first modern Black superstar, died on Saturday due to complications from COVID-19, his team confirmed to BuzzFeed News. He was 86.
Pride was born in Sledge, Mississippi, in 1934 to a sharecropping family. According to CMT, who wrote a lengthy tribute to his legacy, Pride was forced to walk 4 miles to attend a segregated school. He would eventually save enough money from picking cotton to buy his first guitar.
Pride then quit school to play professional baseball and spent a few years in the Army.
"Pride was a gifted athlete who at first thought baseball would be his path from poverty, labor, and strife," his publicist wrote. "But his musical acumen was more impressive than his pitching arm or his hitting skills."
After being discovered and signed to RCA records, Pride recorded several songs in the 1960s that topped country music charts, like "Just Between You and Me" and "All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)."
"Charley Frank Pride was not the first Black artist to make important contributions to country music — DeFord Bailey was a star of the Grand Ole Opry from 1927 through 1941 — but Pride was a trailblazer who emerged during a time of division and rancor," the press release noted.
In his memoir that came out in 1995, Pride wrote about being a Black musician in the country music space.
"We’re not color blind yet, but we’ve advanced a few paces along the path and I like to think I’ve contributed something to that process," he said in the book.
Online, fans and fellow country musicians mourned the death of a trailblazer.