In the years since the 1999 release of Brad Paisley's debut album Who Needs Pictures, the Nashville singer-songwriter has gone from wide-eyed fan to respected peer of Little Jimmy Dickens, Bill Anderson and other country music legends.
When Paisley added to the growing list of country artists paying tribute on social media to Charley Pride, we learned that the genre's first Black superstar got ahead of the game and went out of his way to help teenage Paisley.
"The most generous, kind, trailblazing man has left us," Paisley wrote on Instagram. "I met Charley Pride when I was 15. He gave his home phone number to my dad and said, 'I'd love to help your son.' And help he did. I am so blessed to have had so many memories with him.
"I'm devastated," Paisley adds. "You changed country music for the better, Charley. And you changed this kid's life. We love you."
Paisley's photo of choice comes from the 2016 Country Music Association Awards (CMA Awards). The show-opening medley celebrated 50 years of the CMAs. It included Paisley and Roy Clark performing "I've Got the Tiger By the Tail" in tribute to Buck Owens before Paisley returned to handle lead guitar duties for Pride's rendition of "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'."
Pride's last public appearance came during the CMA Awards' Nov. 11 broadcast, during which he accepted the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award and sang "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'" with fellow Black country star Jimmie Allen.
The son of sharecroppers, Charley Frank Pride was born on March 18, 1934 in Sledge, Mississippi. His 10 siblings from back home include fellow Negro American League baseball player Mack Pride Jr. (both brothers played for the Memphis Red Sox) and Texas singer-songwriter Stephen Pride.
After years of trying to see out his Major League Baseball dreams, Pride turned his attention to country music. His groundbreaking run with RCA Records began with the 1966 single "The Snakes Crawl at Night" and proved itself permanent when "All I Have to Offer You (is Me)" topped the country charts in 1969. By the end of the '70s, Pride was a three-time Grammy award winner, a CMA Entertainer of the Year and his label's best-selling performer since Elvis Presley.
Pride died on Dec. 12 at age 86 from COVID-19 (coronavirus) complications. The Dallas, Texas resident is survived by Rozene and their three children: fellow country singer Dion, reggae band leader Kraig (known professionally as Carlton) and a daughter, Angela.
"Without his encouragement when I was playing the Whiskey a Go-Go on the Sunset Strip in the '70s, I might have never made it to Nashville - and to hear this news tears out a piece of my heart," said Ronnie Milsap (as quoted by the Associated Press). "That he died of COVID makes me even sadder. These are such sad days with too much lose. Please, to everyone who's ever loved 'Kiss An Angel Good Morning,' 'Mountain of Love' or 'Is Anybody Goin' To San Antone,' wear a mask, wash your hands and be wise about gathering. We've lost too many, and I just want us all to be here to love each other and the music the way (Charley) always did for years to come."