Country Music Legend, Cancer Survivor Charley Pride Entertains at UAMS

Charley Pride at UAMS

Grammy Award-winning country music artist Charley Pride performs one of his hits for a small group of UAMS employees.

| A small group of UAMS employees got an unexpected treat Oct. 10 when Grammy Award-winning musician Charley Pride stopped by for an impromptu visit and performance.

Best known for his 1970’s hits including “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” and “Is Anybody Going to San Antone,” Pride was diagnosed with verrucous carcinoma of the vocal cord in 1994. After initially seeking treatment in his hometown of Dallas, Pride was referred to internationally recognized head and neck surgeon James Y. Suen, M.D., distinguished professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

“They told me Dr. Suen was Bill Clinton’s doctor. I said, ‘If he’s good enough for Bill Clinton, he’s good enough for me,” said Pride, sharing the story of how he first became a UAMS patient with staff members from the Department of Otolaryngology.

Charley Pride signs autograph

Charley Pride autographs an album cover for UAMS employee Kathy Adams.

At the time he arrived at UAMS, Pride’s cancer had grown for about six months and he was unable to sing or talk.

“I owned a theater in Branson in the ’90s and performed two shows a day. That’s when I started to notice something was wrong,” Pride said.

After diagnosing his cancer, Suen surgically removed the tumor, not only saving Pride’s vocal cord but also allowing him to continue his singing career.

Pride was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000 and received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2017. He continues a regular touring schedule both across the United States and overseas.

“I remember waking up from the surgery and hearing Dr. Suen say, ‘Charley, we got it all,’” said Pride, adding that Suen later visited the singer’s Branson, Missouri, theater, where he was recognized and thanked from the stage.

“Not only did Dr. Suen take care of the cancer, he also became a good friend,” Pride said.

After about an eight-week recovery, Pride’s voice was back to normal and he resumed his rigorous performance schedule. Although the result could have been much different.

Dr. James Suen and Charley Pride

When Charley Pride was diagnosed with cancer of his vocal cord in 1994, James Y. Suen, M.D., performed surgery that saved his voice.

“If the cancer had been left untreated for too long, he could have permanently lost his voice and larynx,” said Suen, who is co-founder of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

Although Pride’s diagnosis was 25 years ago, he still makes the trip from Dallas to Little Rock for checkups about every four to six years. It was following his most recent visit when he took time to entertain the staff with songs and stories of his decades-long career.

Among those who enjoyed Pride’s visit was Kathy Adams, executive assistant to John Dornhoffer, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Otolaryngology. Although on vacation, Adams made a special trip to her office when she heard Pride would be visiting.

“When I was a kid, my mom loved listening to country music on our big brown console stereo. It was always Charley Pride or Connie Smith. That’s when I became a fan of his as well,” said Adams.

At the end of his visit, Adams presented her vinyl copy of “The Best of Charley Pride” for the singer to autograph. That album, he told her, was a Gold Record and sold more than 1 million copies.

“Classic country is alive and well,” she said.