KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Charley Pride, the first Black country music singer, died Saturday of COVID-19 complications.
But before his history-making music career, Pride stepped on the field as a member of the Negro Leagues. Bob Kendrick, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president, tweeted shortly after Pride’s death was announced that the Country Music Hall of Famer played for the Memphis Red Sox.
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 pic.twitter.com/U0hXERaEPu— Bob Kendrick (@nlbmprez) December 12, 2020
Pride was discovered while pitching for a sandlot team, according to the NLBM.
An army injury, according to Kendrick, ended Pride’s dreams of playing for the major leagues.
“It was after he hurt his arm that he fell back on a pioneering country western music career," Kendrick told 41 Action News. "Some 70+ million albums sold later, I always tell my guests when they learned that he played in the Negro leagues we should all have a fallback career like Charley Pride."
When Pride first broke into the country music scene and began making a name for himself, Kendrick said, the singer's photo didn't appear on his records.
“It has typically been a genre that has not had a lot of Black Americans performing in that genre," Kendrick said, "and so even when Charley moves into the world of country western music, you have to remember that - initially they would not put his photograph on his album covers because they weren’t ready. They didn’t feel like the country music world was ready to see a Black man singing country music although they loved his voice.”
Back in the baseball realm, Pride served on the NLBM board. Kendrick said Pride was a "mainstay" at the museum, and anytime he showed up, a guitar would randomly show up too.
“It’s those kinds of memories that I will hold onto and cherish, you know?" Kendrick said. "Even within the death and the sadness of losing someone -- and again, every time you lose one of these players, you lose, or you feel like you have lost, an extended family member.”