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'Blessed' Daniel O'Donnell 'shocked and saddened' by country star Charley Pride's death

They say you should never meet your idol, but I'm sure glad I met mine. Rest in peace Charley and my sympathies to (his wife) Rozene and all his family.”

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Daniel O'Donnell with Charley Pride

Daniel O'Donnell with Charley Pride

Daniel O'Donnell/Facebook

Daniel O'Donnell with Charley Pride

AMERICAN country music superstar Charley Pride, who died yesterday in Dallas, Texas, from complications of Covid-19, had a close bond with Ireland and Irish fans throughout his career.

Famous for songs such as Crystal Chandeliers and Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’, Charley, who was 86, also struck up a close friendship with our own Daniel O’Donnell.

“I am shocked and saddened to hear of the death of my good friend Charley Pride,” Daniel says. “I feel blessed that I got to share the stage and sing with him on many occasions, but more than that we became good friends over the years.

“They say you should never meet your idol, but I'm sure glad I met mine. Rest in peace Charley and my sympathies to (his wife) Rozene and all his family.”

Irish fans have had a love affair with Charley Pride going back to the mid-1970s when he performed here for the first time.

I was fortunate to meet and interview Charley many times through the decades, the most recent being three years ago, and it was easy to see how he fitted right in here in Ireland.

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Charley Pride (Joseph Llanes/PA)

Charley Pride (Joseph Llanes/PA)

Charley Pride (Joseph Llanes/PA)

The country legend had a great sense of humour and an easy-going personality. He fired off jokes and had me in stitches as we chatted in a Dublin hotel.

“We love one another,” Charley said as he reflected on his relationship with the Irish fans.

Charley has always stood out in the country music scene – and not just because he was the first African American country superstar. His laid-back style and golden voice won him fans everywhere from Dallas to Dublin.

“The guy who persuaded me to come over the first time was an Irish promoter called Jim Aiken,” Charley revealed. “Jim was one of the best promoters I ever worked with in my life and we became great friends. He came over to my 50th wedding anniversary shortly before he died.”

The singer told how Jim Aiken personally travelled to Iowa and persuaded him to play Dublin and Belfast in the 1970s. “A promoter in England had sold Jim four shows, one in Dublin and three in Belfast,” Charley recalls.

“My attorney said I wouldn’t play in Belfast because of the conflict there – this was all happening without my knowledge. As I was going on stage in Waterloo, Iowa, one night I heard a voice behind me saying, ‘Charley, it’s Jim Aiken, you gotta come to Ireland!’

“I spoke to Jim after the show and agreed to go over. We did the show in Dublin and then travelled up to Belfast. I travelled in Jim’s Jaguar car and at the border the soldiers stopped us and lifted the bonnet. That was quite an experience.

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Charley Pride with The  Sunday World's Eddie Rowley

Charley Pride with The Sunday World's Eddie Rowley

Mark Doyle

Charley Pride with The Sunday World's Eddie Rowley

“Jim told me later that when I went and played in Belfast that first time it started his whole business (Aiken Promotions). After that, he said, everybody came and performed in Belfast.”

In the 1990s, the late Jim Aiken would fly to America and doorstep another country sensation in a bid to persuade him to come to Ireland. Garth Brooks took up Jim’s offer and became a major artist in this country – his biggest market outside of America.

Charley, who grew up dirt poor on a cotton farm in Sledge, Misissippi, never expected to become country music’s first African-American superstar, selling tens of millions of records worldwide.

His father had inadvertently fostered his love of country music by tuning in on radio to performances from the Grand Ole Opry. At 14 years of age, Charley bought his first guitar and taught himself to play it listening to the songs that he heard on the radio.

However, it was in the world of sport that Charley first made his mark playing professional baseball until an injury ended his career. During his playing days, Charley entertained his team mates singing on the bus. Along the way, Charley made some contacts in Nashville and eventually got his big break.

Between 1967 and 1987, he had a steady string of hits including All I Have to Offer you is Me, Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone, Amazing Love, Mississippi Cotton Pickin’ Delta Town and Mountain of Love.

He would go on to become a three-time Grammy winner with more than 50 top 10 hits and has sold more records for the RCA label than any other artist bar Elvis Presley.

In 1971, Pride had his first number one crossover smash around the globe with Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’, which was a million-seller. “Crystal Chandeliers was my big hit over here,” Charley pointed out. “It wasn’t a single over in the States. Whenever I sang it on tours in Ireland the room would tremble. It was sort of like a national anthem.”

In 2000, Charley was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame – the first African American to do so. He wept when his name was announced by Brenda Lee.

Charley was 83 when we last met, and he said he didn’t intend to stop touring anytime soon.

“Well, my fans tell me I shouldn’t,” he pointed out. “They say, ‘Charley, don’t stop, you still got it!’ Once I get up on stage it’s the same excitement as it was years ago. It’s like a drug. It’s an addiction.”

We’ll all miss him.

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