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Charley Pride, Country Music’s First Black Superstar, Dies of COVID-19 at 86

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By Chris Morris

Vocalist Charley Pride, the first modern Black superstar of country music, has died. He was 86.

Public relations firm 2911 Media confirmed that Pride died on Dec. 12 in Dallas, Texas from complications related to COVID-19.

Pride had just been seen by millions on live TV in November as he received a lifetime achievement award from the Country Music Association on its annual telecast. It was on that Nov. 11 telecast that he did his final performance, a duet of his classic “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’,” with Jimmie Allen, a rising Black star in country who expressed his indebtedness to his predecessor. Pride followed that with a lengthy and heartfelt speech as the small audience of nominees and their guests stood in rapt attention.

All the performers on the CMA Awards telecast were said to have undergone repeated COVID-19 tests prior to appearing, and several dropped out as a result of testing positive. CMA representatives said at the time that none of the performers who tested positive had entered the footprint of the production area for the telecast.

Maren Morris, who also performed on the CMAs and was the leading winner, was among those quick to wonder if there could be a connection, with Pride apparently contracting COVID-19 so soon after appearing on the show.

“I don’t want to jump to conclusions because no family statement has been made,” Morris tweeted, “but if this was a result of the CMAs being indoors, we should all be outraged. Rest in power, Charley.”

Among those paying quick tribute as the news shocked the country music world was Rissi Palmer, another rising Black star in the genre who has celebrated the path Pride laid for her and others. “I have no words,” Palmer simply tweeted.

Tweeted Dolly Parton, “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.”

Prior to his CMA honor, Pride also came back into the limelight in early 2019 as he promoted “American Masters — Charley Pride: I’m Just Me,” a public television documentary that included interviews with acolytes like Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Parton and others as well as Pride himself.

And he was featured in Ken Burns’ “Country Music” series as well. Burns reacted to the news on Twitter, writing, “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.”

A 2000 inductee in the Country Music Hall of Fame and a three-time Grammy winner, Pride was not the first country performer to cross racial lines: Harmonica player Deford Bailey was an early featured artist on the Grand Ole Opry. (Successors included ’70s contemporary Stoney Edwards and, much later, former Hootie & the Blowfish vocalist Darius Rucker, who found immense crossover success in the genre.)

But none of these Black musicians enjoyed the massive appeal of Pride, who tallied 29 No. 1 country chart hits and another 21 top-10 country entries for RCA Records between 1966 and 1984. Chart guru Joel Whitburn ranks him as the No. 3 hit-producing artist of the ’70s, behind Conway Twitty and Merle Haggard.

During the ’60s, many R&B performers moved into the country realm; most famously, Ray Charles enjoyed a smash hit with his No. 1 album “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.” But Pride was the first Black artist of the day to be signed and marketed by the country division of a major American label.

Though his first work was promoted by RCA without images that would divulge his race, Pride found his music quickly embraced by a Southern, white, working-class audience that found it could identify with the singer’s sharecropping roots and universal aspirations. His keen interpretation of deftly penned honky tonk songs kept him at the top for nearly two decades.

“He was the right singer at the right time in history,” wrote country music historian Bill C. Malone of his remarkable success. “Pride definitely profited from the heightened mood of racial tolerance promoted in the United States by the civil rights movement and from the desires of the country music industry to improve its image and broaden its audience.”

He was born in Sledge, Miss. One of 11 children, he labored as a boy as a cotton picker on a tenant farm.

Though Pride began playing guitar in his teens, he was a gifted athlete, and he first set his sights on a career in baseball. During nearly a decade of playing interrupted by Army service, he pitched for Memphis’ Negro League team, the New York Yankees’ farm club, Birmingham’s Black Barons and the Missoula Timberjacks, the Cincinnati Reds’ Montana-based farm team. He also tried out for the California Angels and the New York Mets.

As Pride labored in the minors, he still entertained thoughts of a music career. While he viewed himself principally as a country singer, and took Hank Williams as a major stylistic avatar, his first recording session, cut in 1958 at Memphis’ Sun Studio, found him working in an R&B mode.

It would be another seven years before Pride was signed to a recording contract, after injuries had ended his pursuit of a life in baseball. His singing attracted the interest of country star Red Sovine, who advised him to seek work in Nashville. He was ultimately signed to RCA by Chet Atkins, head of the label’s country division and its chief producer. His manager, Jack Johnson, insisted, however, that no photographs of Pride be initially released, fearing a potential backlash because of his race.

Pride broke onto the charts at the end of 1966, his first year at RCA, with “Just Between Me and You,” a slickly produced number in the “countrypolitan” vein pioneered by Atkins’ productions. The singer’s taut, wide-ranging baritone pushed the single to No. 9 nationally, beginning an astonishing run in the country top 10. Within a year, he became a member of WSM’s phenomenally popular Grand Ole Opry stage and radio show; at that time, he was its only Black performer.

Having successfully knocked down what had theretofore been a generally rigid racial barrier, Pride enjoyed a soaring career on the back of other smoothly crafted country-pop tunes. He notched two No. 1 hits in 1969, three in 1970 and five in 1971; in the latter year, he released his biggest single, “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” which held the pinnacle for five weeks.

He received the Country Music Association’s coveted entertainer of the year award in 1971, and was voted best male vocalist by the CMA in 1971 and 1972.

In all Pride notched 20 No. 1 hits and nine more top-10 entries during the ’70s. These included “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” (soon heard in a well-known cover by rock’s Sir Douglas Quintet), “I Can’t Believe That You Stopped Loving Me,” “I’d Rather Love You,” “I’m Just Me” and “She’s Too Good to Be True.” He also collaborated with Henry Mancini on “All His Children,” a number for Paul Newman’s 1972 feature “Sometimes a Great Notion”; the single reached No. 2.

Both sides of Pride’s 1971 gospel single, “Let Me Live” and “Did You Think to Pray,” received Grammys in 1972. He also captured a trophy in 1973 for best male country vocal performance, for the album “Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs.”

In the early ’80s, Pride bridled somewhat against the countrypolitan formula and essayed some harder-hitting material, collecting No. 1 singles with covers of Hank Williams’ “Honky Tonk Blues” and “You Win Again” and George Jones’ “Why Baby Why.” However, at the same time his career reached its arguable nadir with another chart-topper, the misbegotten 1983 disco-country fusion “Night Games.” It proved to be his last No. 1 hit.

In 1986, Pride parted company with RCA and became the first act signed to 16th Avenue Records, a division of Opryland run by former RCA exec Jerry Bradley. He recorded 13 mostly minor chart singles for the label; his last top-five hit, “Shouldn’t It Be Easier This Time,” was released in 1987.

He moved into semi-retirement in the late ’80s, emerging sporadically for releases on independent labels like Honest and Music City. His autobiography “Pride,” co-written by Jim Henderson, was published in 1994, and he continued to tour late in life.

Pride was a smart investor whose holdings included an interest in a Texas bank.

He maintained a lifelong interest in baseball: A frequent attendee at Texas Rangers spring training and home games, he sang the national anthem at the 2010 World Series.

He is survived by his wife, Rozene; two sons; and a daughter.

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Veteran Musician, Sir Victor Uwaifo, is Dead

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Legendary singer and guitarist, Sir Victor Uwaifo has been reported dead. He was 80 years.

Uwaifo, who released hits after hits in fast tempo highlife music was said to have died, after a brief illness.

One of his monikers was ‘Guitar Boy’, a name that stuck with him after a song with same title.

The Joromi artist died at home today.

Uwaifo, who served as Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism in Edo State of Nigeria between 2001 and 2003, was born on March 1, 1941, in Benin City.

He attended Western Boys High School in his hometown and later, St Gregory’s College, Lagos.

Sir (Prof) Victor Uwaifo

He subsequently proceeded to Yaba College of Technology, Lagos from where he obtained a National Art Diploma with distinction and shone as an outstanding athlete.

He received a B.A Hons, First Class, Fine and Applied Arts from the University of Benin and a Masters’ Degree in Sculpting from the same university.

He also obtained a Ph.D in Architectural Sculpture from the same university where he has been a Professor for several years.

In March, he marked his 80th birthday, which was turned into a carnival of sort, to celebrate his contributions not just to music, but also to creative arts.

Uwaifo had a Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) Degree (Honoris) by the University of Benin; the Benin National Merit Award; the University of Benin Distinguished Alumnus Award and the National Honour of Member of the Order of the Niger by the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In 2010, Prof. Uwaifo was one of the select Nigerians awarded the fellowship of the Nigerian Academy of Letters at a grand event at the University of Lagos.

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Yahaya Bello’s Wife To Host Nollywood Awards in Lokoja

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First Lady of Kogi State, Mrs Rashida Yahaya Bello with Seun Oloketuyi

In what seems to be an entrenchment of the romance between the state and Nigeria’s film industry, the board and organisers of the yearly Best of Nollywood Awards (BON) have announced that the book reading for the year will be hosted by the First Lady of Kogi State, Mrs Rashida Yahaya Bello, at the State House in Lokoja.The book reading, which is a BON Awards tradition is an event held for children in the year’s host state for the awards. Asides the fact that it is the first time after the COVID-19 pandemic that BON Awards would be hosting a reading, the event, as usual, is scheduled to coincide with the 2021 Children’s Day celebration.

For this year, the organisers of the leading pan-Nigerian film industry awards have revealed that the official book of the year is Chinua Achebe’s The Trouble with Nigeria, and over 1000 children from all over Kogi State are expected at the event where the First Lady of the state, supported by a number of Nollywood actors, will read for them.

Billed to attend the event and celebrate with the children are Nollywood screen stars like Aishat Lawal, Ali Nuhu, Lateef Adedimeji, and Yomi Fash-Lanso. Others include Gbenga Adeyinka, Fathia Williams, Adebimpe Oyebade, Biola Adebayo and Efe Irele.

The reading, which is a prelude to the events that lead up to the awards come December 11, marks the beginning of the 13th BON Awards activities for the year. It would be remembered that on Tuesday, March 2, Governor Yahaya Bello was awarded the hosting rights for 2021 edition of the awards.

Speaking on the reading, BON Awards founder Seun Oloketuyi revealed that, “this is an important part of the series of events that make up BON because it is for the children, and we are glad that the First Lady graciously accepted to host the reading.”

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Gerry Marsden, the man who sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, dies after short illness

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Gerry and the Pacemakers star Gerry Marsden has died aged 78.

The singer, who was born in Toxteth, was best known for the hit song You’ll Never Walk Alone, The world famous pre-match anthem of Liverpool FC.

Gerry shot to fame as the leader of Merseybeat band Gerry and the Pacemakers, whose legendary hits also included Ferry Cross the Mersey.

Pete Price broke the sad news on social media on Sunday, with a loving tribute to his friend.

He wrote: “It’s with a very heavy heart after speaking to the family that I have to tell you the Legendary Gerry Marsden MBE after a short illness which was an infection in his heart has sadly passed away.

“Sending all the love in the world to Pauline and his family. You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

When Gerry met Liverpool fc Manager Jurgen Klopp

Also paying tribute, Liverpool singer Jamie Webster tweeted: “Sad news about Gerry Marsden.

“A voice of the city of Liverpool. Rest in peace Gerry. You’ll never walk alone x.”

Ian Byrne, Labour MP, Liverpool West Derby, wrote: “RIP Gerry Marsden YNWA.”

During his high-flying career, Gerry enjoyed almost 60 years of touring.

He formed the group Gerry and the Pacemakers with his brother Fred, Les Chadwick, and Arthur McMahon as the original band members.

Originating in Liverpool in 1959, Merseybeat band Gerry and the Pacemakers were pioneers who rivalled the Beatles from the outset of their career.

I Like It and How Do You Do It were among their best chart-topping tracks.

Gerry also raised a huge amount of money for charity, including to support those affected by the Bradford City stadium fire in 1985 and after the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
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In 2009 he was given the Freedom of the City of Liverpool for his charitable works for the city and for his contribution to to the city’s culture.

In 2003 he was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his services to charity.

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