Pioneering country music legend Charley Pride, who died Saturday at 86 from complications related to Covid-19, was as equally influenced by blues and gospel music as he was country music. Although his biggest crossover hit, “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’” was nominated for a 1971 Grammy, the two trophies he won that year were for the gospel album Did You Think to Pray. He would also earn a nod for his 1976 collection of sacred songs, Sunday Morning With Charley Pride.
The Mississippi native returned to his spiritual roots in 2006 with the album Pride & Joy: A Gospel Music Collection, which included duets with fellow icons — and one-time RCA labelmates — Willie Nelson (on his classic “Family Bible”) and Dolly Parton.
Pride had a specific idea for the album: open it with his version of Parton’s inspirational “God’s Coloring Book,” from her 1977 LP Here You Come Again. In the same way the two entertainers shared the experience of growing up poor in large families — Parton had 11 siblings and Pride ten — they also had similar philosophies when it came to their spiritual beliefs. “We relate to God in the same way,” Parton said in the 2019 American Masters documentary Charley Pride: I’m Just Me. “We don’t believe you have to cram it down somebody’s throat.”
But Pride had some trepidation about approaching Parton to record her song. That’s when Pride’s wife Rozene, whom he wed in 1956 while in the Army, got involved. Rozene rang up Parton herself, who immediately said yes but with a stipulation: Parton wanted to sing “God’s Coloring Book” with Pride.
The end result is a moving duet of awe and gratitude, with Pride and Parton trading lyrics about a Technicolor tapestry of natural wonders, from a yellow dandelion to a stormy sky. At the close of a year that has been unrelentingly challenging and sad for so many — and in light of the nature of Pride’s passing — the gentle communion of faith and kinship make it all the more poignant.
Parton, whose donation of one million dollars helped fund a vaccine for Covid-19, remembered Pride in a tweet on Saturday.
“I’m so heartbroken that one of my dearest and oldest friends, Charley Pride, has passed away,” she wrote. “It’s even worse to know that he passed away from COVID-19. What a horrible, horrible virus. Charley, we will always love you.”