In the hours after country music legend Charley Pride died of covid-19 complications on Dec. 12, fans were devastated. And then they started asking questions.
About a month earlier, the 86-year-old singer attended the Country Music Association Awards, where he received a lifetime achievement award. But many viewers were shocked to see the ceremony taking place indoors, in front of nearly 100 people, the majority of whom were not wearing masks on camera. Following the news of Pride’s death, a flood of social media posts — including some from high-profile country stars — wondered whether his attendance or travel from his home in Texas to the show in Nashville led to his illness.
It is unclear where and when Pride contracted the coronavirus. The CMA released a statement saying that it “followed strict testing protocols outlined by the city health department and union” and that Pride — whose family said he was hospitalized in late November — tested negative before coming to the show, again upon landing in Nashville, and multiple times when he got home. Pride’s manager Kevin Bailey echoed this to the Dallas Morning News and praised the CMA for “taking every precaution,” and added that anyone saying otherwise is “crusading to stir up some mud.”
Pride’s publicist did not respond to multiple requests for additional details, and when reached by phone, Bailey declined to discuss the topic. A CMA spokeswoman said: “Out of respect for his family, we do not have further comment.”
And yet it’s hard to imagine country music’s year in the pandemic ending on a worse note. The genre has made a slew of unflattering headlines over the past 10 months, from Chase Rice’s not-socially-distanced summer concert to Morgan Wallen being dropped as the “Saturday Night Live” musical guest after violating the show’s coronavirus protocols. Then there was the strange tone of the CMA Awards, the format’s biggest night in the national spotlight to celebrate music known for capturing real life and “three chords and the truth,” trying to project an image of cheerful normalcy in a tragedy-filled year.