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Charley Pride, The First Major Black Breakout Star Of Country Music, Has Died Of COVID-19

"Charley Frank Pride was not the first Black artist to make important contributions to country music ... but Pride was a trailblazer who emerged during a time of division and rancor."

Posted on December 12, 2020, at 4:49 p.m. ET

Terry Wyatt / Getty Images

Charley Pride performing onstage during the 54th Annual CMA Awards on Nov. 11 in Nashville.

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.

According to his obituary press release, the singer was in Dallas at the time of his death, and he had just performed his hit song "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’" at the Country Music Awards last month.

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)."

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"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.

Rest In Peace. My love and thoughts go out to his family and all of his fans. - Dolly (2/2)

He treated everyone with respect & kindness. I’m in shock & so sad because I lost a good friend, the music business lost an incredible artist and the world lost an amazing citizen. #CharleyPride #kissanangelgoodmorning

Oh wow. My Dad used to love the music of Charley Pride. A legend lost to COVID-19.

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

Absolutely heartbroken by the news of the passing of former Negro Leaguer & Country Music legend, Charley Pride! This is Charley as a member of the Memphis Red Sox! @vgregorian @JPosnanski @Rangers @MLB @MLB_PLAYERS @CountryMusic @fox4kc @kmbc @41actionnews @KCTV5 @KCStar RT

Charley Pride will always be a legend in Country music. He will truly be missed but will always be remembered for his great music, wonderful personality and his big heart. My thoughts are with his wife Rozene and their family. RIP, Charley.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.