Charley Pride, hailed as “the Jackie Robinson of the Rhinestone Cowboys” by Dolly Carlisle in People because blacks are rare in the field of country music, has gone way beyond being a novelty to rank as one of the genre’s greatest superstars. Famed for hits like “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” and “I Don’t Think She’s in Love Anymore,” he became the first black to perform onstage at country music’s most famous showcase, the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. In his long and prolific career, Pride has garnered many of his industry’s major awards, including being named top male country artist of the 1970s by Cash Box magazine in 1980.
In Sledge, Mississippi, where Pride was born in 1938, whites listened to country music and blacks listened to the blues. But from his early childhood, Pride escaped the drudgery of the sharecropper’s life he was born to by listening to radio broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry. Despite chiding from his ten brothers and sisters, he walked around singing the songs he loved—the songs of country greats such as Hank Williams (by whom he was deeply influenced) and Roy Acuff. When Pride was fourteen years old, he bought his first guitar from Sears and Roebuck, and taught himself to play it by trying to imitate the various picking styles he heard on the radio.
Around the same time, young Pride began to formulate a plan so that he would not have to follow in his father’s footsteps and pick cotton all of his life. Oddly enough the plan did not involve music, but rather baseball. Encouraged by the growing acceptance of blacks in the major leagues, Pride aimed for a career as a professional ballplayer; he figured he might become a country singer after he broke all the important records and retired from sports. When he turned seventeen, he left home to seek his fortune; by 1955 he had won a spot in the Negro American Leagues. Pride played for teams in Detroit, Michigan; Memphis, Tennessee; and Birmingham, Alabama; taking time out for two years of service in the U.S. Army. In or around 1960 he left the Negro league for a class C team in Great Falls, Montana, and even won a brief trial with the major league Los Angeles Angels (now the California Angels) in 1961. The latter stint did not work out, and Pride returned to Great Falls, where he supplemented his income working as a tin smelter. He also occasionally sang between innings during the games he played in, and was well-received by the crowds. At some point during this stage of his life, Pride also noticed the country band practicing in the apartment next to his. He went over and introduced himself, and the band occasionally invited him to play and sing with them at local nightclubs.
Soon Pride was getting club engagements on his own,
Full name, Charley Frank Pride; born March 18, 1938, in Sledge, Miss.; son of Mack Pride (a sharecropper and farmer); married Rozene Pride (a cosmetologist), December 28, 1956; children: Kraig, Dion, and Angela.
Country singer, guitarist. Picked cotton as a child, played baseball in the Negro American League in Detroit, Mich., Memphis, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala., 1955-56 and 1958-59 (served in the U.S.Army, 1956-58); played baseball in Class C Pioneer League in Great Falls, Mont, 1960-1963, played briefly with major league team Los Angeles Angels (now California Angels), 1961, worked as a smelter in a tin mine, Great Falls, 1960-1964; began singing in nightclubs, about 1962; recording artist and concert performer, 1965—. Appeared on many television shows. Owns several radio stations, majority stockholder of First Texas Bank in Dallas, owns a cattle ranch in Dallas, Texas.
Awards: At least three Grammy Awards. Named Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year by Country Music Association, 1970. Billboards Trendsetter Award, 1970. Entertainer of the Year Award from Music Operators of America, 1970. Named top male country artist of the decade (1970s) by Cash Box magazine, 1980.
Addresses: Residence— 3198 Royal Lane, #204, Dallas, Texas 75229. Record Company— RCA Records, 1133 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036.
and in 1963, country star Red Sovine saw him perform at one of these establishments. Sovine liked what he heard, and urged Pride to go to Nashville, telling him who to audition for. But Pride still held on to his dream of becoming a major league ballplayer, and did not heed Sovine until a 1964 tryout with the New York Mets convinced him that he did not have what it took to make it in professional baseball. On the way back to Great Falls after his rejection by the Mets, Pride decided to stop in Nashville. He sang for manager Jack D. Johnson, and, in the words of Ebony magazine: “Impressed that a Black man could sing country music, Johnson asked Pride to sing in his natural voice. Pride told him he was.” Johnson took some of his new discovery’s demo tapes to famed country guitarist Chet Atkins, who was also head of RCA Victor Records. Atkins decided to sign Pride, but, unsure that the then predominantly white, Southern audiences that enjoyed country music were ready to welcome a black performer, released the singer’s first single, “Snakes Crawl at Night,” in 1966 without the usual publicity photographs.
“Snakes Crawl at Night,” and Pride’s succeeding song, “Just Between You and Me,” did well on the country charts. At his first large concert, however, before ten thousand fans in Detroit, the preliminary applause faded to shocked silence when the black man walked onstage. Fortunately, he was more than able to get the crowd cheering again when he began to sing. As Ebony put it: “It is the concerts, more than the recordings, that reveal Charley Pride the man, the entertainer.” By 1967, he was so popular that he was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.
Throughout the 1970s, Pride continued to rack up hits and honors at a phenomenal rate. His singles from that decade include perhaps his biggest smash, “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” from 1970, “Amazing Love” from 1973, “We Could” from 1974, “Hope You’re Feelin’ Me (Like I’m Feelin’ You)” from 1975, “My Eyes Can Only See as Far as You” from 1976, and “You’re My Jamaica” from 1979. In 1971 he was voted Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association; in that year Pride also won his first two Grammys. Oddly enough they were for gospel rather than country and western— his album Did You Think to Pray? won the award for best sacred performance, and its single, “Let Me Live,” garnered him best gospel performance.
While it is Pride’s success in the field of country music that has brought him the most fame, it has also brought him controversy. When his race first became widely known, some country disc jockeys boycotted his records. And as he became a star, many blacks looked down on him for promoting what they felt was an essentially white genre. Pride responded to his critics for Carlisle: “I’m not a black man singing white man’s music. I’m an American singing American music. I worked out those problems years ago—and everybody else will have to work their way out of it too.” He also predicted in Ebony that “sooner or later Black people are going to start coming out of the closet and admitting they like country music. And I think it’s about time.”
Pride has continued to score hits in the 1980s, cutting an album in tribute to Williams entitled There’s a Little Bit of Hank in Me that yielded the Number 1 country single “Honky Tonk Blues.” He’s also had hits like “I Don’t Think She’s in Love Anymore,” “Mountain of Love,” and “Roll on Mississippi”; his later chart-climbers include 1988’s “Shouldn’t It Be Easier Than This” and 1989’s “Amy’s Eyes.”
Major single releases; on RCA, except as noted
“Snakes Crawl at Night,” 1966.
“Just Between You and Me,” 1966.
“Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger,” 1967.
“I Know One,” 1967.
“The Day the World Stood Still,” 1968.
“The Best Part’s Over,” 1968.
“Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” 1970.
“Let Me Live,” 1971.
“Amazing Love,” 1973.
“We Could,” 1974.
“Then Who Am I?” 1975.
“I Ain’t All Sad,” 1975.
“Hope You’re Feelin’ Me (Like I’m Feelin’ You),” 1975.
“The Happiness of Having You,” 1976.
“My Eyes Can Only See as Far as You,” 1976.
“A Whole Lotta Things to Sing About,” 1976.
“I’ll Be Leavin’ Alone,” 1977.
“More to Me,” 1977.
“When I Stop Leavin’ I’ll Be Gone,” 1978.
“Burgers and Fries,” 1978.
“You’re My Jamaica,” 1979.
“Where Do I Put Her Memory?” 1979.
“Missin’ You,” 1979.
“Honky Tonk Blues,” 1980.
“You Win Again,” 1980.
“Roll on Mississippi,” 1981.
“Never Been So Loved,” 1981.
“I’m Missin’ Mississippi,” 1984.
“I’m Gonna Love Her on the Radio,” Capitol, 1988.
“Shouldn’t It Be Easier Than This,” Capitol, 1988.
“Amy’s Eyes,” Capitol, 1989.
Also recorded the singles “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” and “Mountain of Love.”
LPs; on RCA Records, except as noted
Country Charley Pride, 1966.
Pride of Country Music, 1967.
Make Mine Country, 1968.
Songs of Pride … Charley, That Is, 1968.
Charley Pride in Person at Panther Hall, 1968.
The Sensational Charley Pride, 1969.
The Best of Charley Pride, 1969.
Just Plain Charley, 1970.
Christmas in My Home Town, 1970.
From Me to You, 1971.
Did You Think to Pray? 1971.
I’m Just Me, 1971.
Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs, 1971.
The Best of Charley Pride, Vol. 2, 1972.
A Sunshiny Day With Charley Pride, 1972.
Songs of Love by Charley Pride, 1973.
Sweet Country, 1973.
Amazing Love, 1973.
Country Feelin’, 1974.
Pride of America, 1974.
The Happiness of Having You, 1975.
Sunday Morning With Charley Pride, 1976.
She’s Just an Old Love Turned Memory, 1977.
Someone Loves You, Honey, 1978.
When I Stop Leavin’ I’ll Be Gone, 1979.
You’re My Jamaica, 1979.
There’s a Little Bit of Hank in Me, 1980.
The Power of Love, 1984.
I’m Gonna Love Her on the Radio, Capitol, 1988.
Moody Woman, Capitol, 1989.
Ebony, September 1984.
Newsday, November 15, 1971.
People, June 9, 1980.
Time, May 6, 1974.
Pride, Charley 1938(?)–
Charley Pride 1938(?)–
Country music vocalist
Many African Americans have crossed the color line in their respective fields of endeavor, winning respect and fame throughout American society for their persistence, for their belief in equality and justice, and for sheer guts. Perhaps none other, however, has had a career that so completely overcame negative expectations as that of Charley Pride, country music’s first and only major African American star. Pride made his mark not only by breaking into a white-dominated world, but also by succeeding brilliantly. He was among the best-selling country vocalists of the 1960s and 1970s, and enjoyed an enduring career that stretched over parts of four decades.
Pride’s own autobiography, Pride, is unclear as to his actual birthdate, but most sources agree that he was born on March 18, 1938. Named Charl Frank Pride by his father, he received the name Charley when a clerk mistyped his birth certificate. Pride grew up in the Mississippi Delta, in the small town of Sledge, as one of eleven children in a sharecropper’s family. The children, he wrote in his autobiography, “slept three and four to a bed, lying alternately head to foot.”
As a child, Pride endured not only the worst indignities that Southern segregation could dish out, but also unrelenting physical abuse from his father. Two breezes of influence from the outside seemed to carry suggestions of a different life. Pride shared one of these inspirational influences with many other African American young people of his time: a gifted athlete named Jackie Robinson. Pride was greatly impressed by Robinson, who became the first African American player to enter baseball’s major leagues. The other inspiration was more unusual. Pride, along with his family, listened to the weekly Saturday-night broadcasts of country music’s long-running Grand Ole Opry radio program, which was transmitted on station WSM out of Nashville.
While it was not uncommon for African Americans in the South to listen to country music from time to time—jazz and pop vocalist Ray Charles described similar listening sessions from his own childhood— Pride’s interest went much deeper. Born with a talent for mimicry, he quickly mastered the nasal yet sonorous singing styles of top country vocalists of the day such as Hank Williams and Roy Acuff. Pride’s siblings were
Born Charl Pride on March 18, 1938, in Sledge, MS; son of Mack Pride, a sharecropper farmer; married, wife’s name Rozene; children: Kraig, Dion, and Angela. Military service: U.S. Army, 1956-58.
Career: Country singer, guitarist, and former professional baseball player; played inNegro Leagues in Detroit, Memphis, and Birmingham, Alabama, 1955-56 and 1958-59; played baseball and worked as tin smelter in Montana, 1960-63; began singing in night ciubs around 1962; recorded debut album for RCA label, 1967; topped country and pop charts with hit single ’’Kiss an Angel Good Morning.’ 1970; moved to 16th Avenue label, 1987.
Awards: Several Grammy awards. Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year, Country Music Association, 1970; Top Male Artist of the Decade (1970s), CashBox magazine, 1980; inducted into Country Music Hall of Fame, 2000.
Addresses: Booking agent— Cecca Productions, P.O. Box 670507, DallasTX 75367
mystified by his desire to sing country music. A natural musician, Pride amused himself by constructing simple musical instruments out of such materials as combs and pieces of wire. At the age of 14, he bought his first guitar.
Despite his interest in music, Pride first turned to baseball as his ticket out of Sledge. “As far as I was concerned, my future was in baseball,” he wrote in his autobiography. “Once I saw what Jackie Robinson did, that was my goal.” Pride won a spot with the Memphis Red Sox and the Birmingham Black Barons in the old Negro Leagues, and excelled even when these teams faced off against major league squads in exhibition play. Following military service in the U.S. Army in 1956 and 1957, Pride made repeated attempts to break into the majors. However, he became frustrated because the number of African Americans who were allowed to play major league baseball was still small. Newly married, Pride settled for an offer from the owner of a small semi-professional team in Montana, the Missoula Timberjacks. The baseball job came with a price, working a dangerous, demanding shift in a smelting plant.
Pride sang the national anthem at baseball games and occasionally performed a country song or two between innings. He was greatly encouraged by the audience’s positive response, and soon began to round out his income by singing in taverns. At a concert in the early 1960s, he filled a slot at a Helena, Montana concert hosted by country stars Red Foley and Red Sovine. Sovine was impressed with Pride’s performance, and gave him the telephone number of his booking agent in Nashville. In the meantime, Pride still tried to earn a spot in the major leagues. In 1963 he tried out for the New York Mets, but was rejected. Given a bus ticket back to Montana by the team, Pride traveled by way of Nashville and acquired the services of a manager, Jack Johnson. Two years passed before Pride was signed to the RCA label in Nashville, and executives at the label moved gingerly to promote their new artist. His first single, the murder ballad “Snakes Crawl at Night,” was released without any accompanying photo publicity. Pride’s rich baritone voice was so steeped in the traditions of country music, that most audiences did not realize he was African American. Initially, RCA would not allow Pride to record love songs such as the sentimental classic “Green, Green Grass of Home”. The song referred to a woman with “hair of gold and lips like cherries,” and executives feared that white audiences would react negatively to hearing Pride sing of a love affair with a blonde-haired woman.
Pride’s first several singles became hits and, by 1966, his career was in full bloom. During live performances, he won the audience over with his vocal stylings and genial sense of humor. Before a crucial Detroit concert, Pride and manager Johnson devised the trademark joke in which he mentioned his “permanent tan.” During the late 1960s, when tensions were running high over riots in several American cities, Pride’s remarkable rapport with audiences ensured that his concerts would be free of any racial violence. Pride joined a tour organized by rising “outlaw” singer-songwriter Willie Nelson, who gave Pride important support during the early stages of his career.
Pride soon became a fixture on the country music scene. With the release of a 1969 collection of his singles, The Best of Charley Pride, the singer hit the coveted Number One position on country music sales charts. In 1970, Pride released “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” which crossed over to pop audiences and reached the pop top 20. The song, in which Pride delivers the folksy advice “Kiss an angel good morning/And love her like the devil when you get back home”, remains one of his most popular hits. In 1971, Pride swept the Country Music Association’s Male Vocalist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year awards.
Pride’s string of hit singles and albums was virtually unbroken throughout the 1970s. Cash Box magazine named Pride country music’s top male vocalist of the decade. At several points in his career, he struggled with depression. However, he always bounced back and turned to medication only after being hospitalized in 1989. In the early 1980s, Pride released the Hank Williams tribute album There’s a Little Bit of Hank in Me. Pride had always had an affinity for Williams’s songs, and later recorded a rambunctious version of the Williams song “Kaw-Liga”. The song tells the story of a wooden antique-store Indian who is unable to verbalize his love for a similar female figure. The female figure is eventually purchased by a customer and taken away.
During the late 1980s, Pride’s popularity faded somewhat with the rise of newer, rock-oriented country styles. He became a leader of a group of older, established singers who were critical of country radio stations for ignoring the legends of the genre. Pride continued to hold on to his devoted base of fans, however. In 1992, he opened a theater in Branson, Missouri, a country music-oriented tourist town geared to older travelers. That year, he was inducted into the roster of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville—a high honor among country music traditionalists. Twenty-five years earlier, Pride had become the first African American singer to appear on the Opry stage. In the year 2000, he became the first African American member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Country Charley Pride, RCA, 1966.
The Pride of Country Music, RCA, 1967.
Songs of Pride… Charley, That Is, RCA, 1968.
Charley Pride–In Person, RCA, 1968.
Christmas in My Home Town, RCA, 1970.
Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs, RCA, 1971.
Songs of Love by Charley Pride, RCA, 1973.
Charley, RCA, 1975.
Sunday Morning with Charley Pride, RCA, 1976.
She’s Just an Old Love Turned Memory, RCA, 1977.
Burgers and Fries, RCA, 1978.
You’re My Jamaica, RCA, 1979.
There’s a Little Bit of Hank in Me, RCA, 1980.
Roll On Mississippi, RCA, 1981.
Night Games, RCA, 1983.
The Power of Love, RCA, 1984.
After All This Time, 16th Avenue, 1987.
I’m Gonna Love Her on the Radio, 16th Avenue, 1988.
The Essential Charley Pride, RCA, 1997.
Contemporary Musicians, volume 4, Gale, 1991.
Larkin, Colin, ed., The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK, 1998.
Pride, Charley, with Jim Henderson, Pride: The Charley Pride Story, Morrow, 1994.
Smith, Jessie Carney, éd., Notable Black American Men, Gale, 1999.
Stambler, Irwin, and Grelun Landon, The Encyclopedia of Folk, Country & Western Music, St. Martin’s, 1983.
Country Music, July-August 1996, p. 64. Jet, August 9, 1999.
—James M. Manheim
Pride, Charley , one of the best-selling country performers of the 1960s and 1970s, and one of the few African-Americans to score success in this style, b. Sledge, Miss., March 18, 1938. Pride is noteworthy for being one of the few African-Americans to break through to true country stardom. Pride’s interest in country music reflects the fact that in the rural South traditional country (and blues) audiences crossed racial lines; and his success reflects both the slickness of Pride’s recordings and the smooth-as-silk quality of his vocals.
Pride was born one of 11 children to poor, tenant farmers. Like many other black families in rural Miss., they made their living picking cotton, for which they were paid $3.00 for each hundred pounds picked. Early on, Pride became a fan of country radio, particularly emulating the bluesy sounds of Hank Williams, and taught himself the guitar. At the same time, an early talent for athletics manifested itself, and he began playing baseball in the old Negro league in the late 1950s.
After serving in the military, Pride was hired to play for a minor-league team in Helena, Mont. He continued to perform in local bars in his free time, while he also worked off-season for Anaconda Mining as a smelter. In 1963, Red Sorvine was passing through the region and heard Pride perform; he encouraged Pride to come to Nashville to audition for RCA. Pride stalled for a year, while pursuing his dreams of big league baseball as a member of the N.Y. Mets’ farm team. In 1964, he traveled to Nashville to audition for famed country producer Chet Atkins who signed him to RCA.
Pride’s recording career was blessed with early success. His first single, “Snakes Crawl at Night,” was an immediate Top Ten country hit, and was followed by another hit, “Just between You and Me.” Within a year of the release of his first single, he was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry, where he became immediately one of the most popular performers. Atkins smothered Pride’s vocals in the blend of echoey guitars and girly choruses that Nashville was becoming (in)famous for, and the country audience ate it up. Little emphasis was placed on Pride’s racial identity by RCA, and no one in the audience seemed to mind that he was a lone black star among a white (and relatively conservative) group of musicians.
Pride enjoyed his greatest success in the late 1960s and early 1970s, winning numerous Grammy, CMA, and gold record awards. In addition to the standard songs of lovin’ and losin’, Pride also was a popular gospel recording artist, bringing the same smooth, pop delivery to his gospel recordings that he did to his songs of heartache.
A long-time resident of Dallas, Pride pretty much retired from performing in the 1980s, although he continues to record sporadically, issuing a couple of albums late in the decade for the small 16th Avenue label. He made an attempt at a comeback in 1993 with the single, “Just for the Love of It.” It was typical 1960s Nashville in its conservative message and Pride’s voice still sounds smooth-as-silk, even though the backing was simpler than on his earlier recordings, reflecting the influence of new country. Since then, he has been only performed irregularly.
Country Charley Pride (1966); The Pride of Country Music (1967); The Country Way (1967); Make Mine Country (1968); Songs of Pride…Charley, That Is (1968); Charley Pride-In Person (1968); The Sensational Charley Pride (1969); The Best of Charley Pride (1969); Just Plain Charley (1970); Charley Pride’s Tenth Album (1970); Christinas In My Home Town (1970); From Me to You (To All My Wonderful Fans) (1971); Did You Think to Pray? (1971); I’m Just Me (1971); Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs (1971); The Best of Charley Pride, Vol. 2 (1972); A Sunshiny Day with Charley Pride (1972); Songs of Love By Charley Pride (1973); Sweet Country (1973); The Incomparable Charley Pride (1973); Amazing Love (1973); Country Feelin’ (1974); Pride of America (1974); Charley (1975); The Happiness of Having You (1975); Sunday Morning with Charley Pride (1976); She’s Just an Old Love Turned Memory (1977); The Best of Charley Pride, Vol. 3 (1977); Someone Loves You Honey (1978); Burgers and Fries (1978); You’re My Jamaica (1979); There’s a Little Bit of Hank In Me (1980); Roll On Mississippi (1981); Greatest Hits (1981); Charley Sings Everybody’s Choice (1982); Live (1982); Night Games (1983); The Power of Love (1984); After All This Time (1987); I’m Gonna Love Her on the Radio (1988); Moody Woman (1989); Amy’s Eyes (1990); Classics with Pride (1991); My 6 Latest & 6 Greatest (1993); The Very Best Of…(1995); Just for the Love of It (1996); Super Hits (1996); The Essential Charley Pride (1997); The Masters (1998).