Dolly Parton has paid tribute to fellow country music star Charley Pride following his death aged 86 from coronavirus complications.
Pride, from Sledge in Mississippi, was one the genre’s first black stars and the first black member of the Country Music Hall Of Fame.
A statement from his representative said: “Pride, whose rich baritone voice and impeccable song-sense altered American culture, died Saturday, December 12, 2020 in Dallas, Texas of complications from Covid-19 at age 86.”
Widely considered a trailblazer, he was one of only three African-Americans to become a member of the prestigious Grand Ole Opry club.
Parton, 74, said on Twitter: “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. Rest In Peace. My love and thoughts go out to his family and all of his fans.”
Among Pride’s best known songs were Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’, Is Anybody Going To San Antone? and Mountain Of Love.
Across his nearly seven-decade career, he was nominated for 13 Grammys and won three.
Before arriving in Nashville in 1963 to pursue music, Pride spent time in the Army, working at a Missouri smelting plant and attempting to forge a career in big-league baseball.
He played for the Memphis Red Sox and Birmingham Black Barons.
In August 1965, he recorded a session that impressed the RCA record label’s Chet Atkins, who offered him a recording contract.
And in 1967, his recording of Clement’s Just Between You And Me broke into the country top 10 in the US.
Pride promptly quit his job as a smelter to pursue music full time.
His greatest musical success came in the 1970s when he became the best-selling performer for RCA since Elvis Presley.
He was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2000.
Pride’s final performance came on November 11 this year when he sang Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’ during the Country Music Association Awards show at Nashville’s Music City Centre with contemporary star Jimmie Allen.
Billy Ray Cyrus was also among those from the country music world paying tribute.
Sharing a photo of them together, the Achy Breaky Heart singer wrote on Twitter: “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.”
American singer-songwriter Luke Combs said: “I had the pleasure of meeting Charley Pride when I was playing the @opry. I was in awe of his presence and his talent.
“So saddened by the news of his passing. He was a true legend and trailblazer. His impact on our genre and generations of artists will never be forgotten.”
Documentary-maker Ken Burns tweeted: “Charley Pride was a trail blazer whose remarkable voice & generous spirit broke down barriers in country music just as his hero Jackie Robinson had in baseball. His last performance was his hit, “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin.” Now he is one.”
Country star Reba McEntire said: “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.”