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. Addresses: Residence --3198 Royal Lane, #204, Dallas, Texas 75229. Record Company --RCA Records, 1133 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036.

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, 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."

by Elizabeth Thomas

Charley Pride's Career

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.

Charley Pride's Awards

At least three Grammy Awards. Named Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year by Country Music Association, 1970. Billboard 's 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.

Famous Works

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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 6 years ago

Thanks for all of this information! I am writting a paper for college that is about social constraints and the crossing of racial color and racial music. This was very helpfull.

almost 9 years ago

Our family loves to listen to Charlie and proud he has done so well, especially since we were born in MS as well. Last Sat, on RFD TV, we were watching a country music show and a guy by the name of, I think, Steven Pride sang. I am not sure of the first name but we thought he had a lot of mannerisns like Charlie and he sounded great. We are wondering if it his son.