Charley Pride

  • Country music singer and guitarist born in 1934 in Sledge Mississippi. Died in 2020 from Covid-19 complications.
  • Pride taught himself to play the guitar when he was 14 years old. While he was interested in music, he dreamed of playing professional baseball, and he played minor league baseball from 1952 to 1960 (missing two years when he was drafted into the Army). One of his baseball stops was in Montana, and the team manager paid him $10 to sing before games, figuring that it would increase attendance. As his baseball career wound down, he began to perform country music at clubs around his home in Montana. He performed with a band called the Night Hawks, as well as a solo act. Country artists Red Sovine and Red Foley heard him sing, and they encouraged Pride to go to Nashville.
  • In 1966, legendary guitarist and record label executive Chet Atkins heard a demo tape of Pride and soon Pride was signed to Atkins’ label. He released his first singles that year. Initially, the record company did not release promotional photos with the singles, fearing that disc jockeys would not play a country song performed by a black man. The first two singles did not chart, but his third became a major hit – Just Between You and Me. It reached #9 on the country chart, and Pride was nominated for a Grammy award for it.
  • As his music became popular, audiences learned of his heritage. His photograph was prominent on his debut album, released in 1966. His first performance on a large stage was in Detroit – most of the 10,000 people in the audience did not realize that he was black, and their applause stopped when he took the stage. He told the audience “Friends, I realize it’s a little unique, me coming out here — with a permanent suntan — to sing country and western to you. But that’s the way it is.” As his popularity increased, his race no longer mattered to the industry. In 1967, he performed at the Grand Ole Opry – the first black person in 26 years to perform there.
  • During the 60s, Pride released six studio albums, and 1967’s The Country Way was his first of 12 albums that topped the Country Albums chart. He had nine singles break into the top 10 of the Country chart, with All I Have To Offer You (Is Me) and (I’m So) Afraid of Losing You Again topping the chart in 1969.
  • The peak of his career was in the 70s. He released 20 studio albums during the decade, and he had 20 singles peak at #1 on the Country singles chart during that time. His signature hit, Kiss An Angel Good Morning, was released in 1971. It was his most successful crossover song, reaching #21 on the Hot 100 chart and #7 on the Adult Contemporary chart. He won three Grammy awards during the 70s, two in the gospel music category and one in the country music category. In 1971, the Country Music Association chose him as Entertainer of the Year.
  • He remained active in country music for many years. He released 11 albums in the 80s, and 7 more albums between 1990 and 2017. He had seven more #1 hits in the early 80s. Between 1966 and 1984, Pride released 54 singles, and all but three charted in the top 10 of the Country Songs chart. While his new music was not as successful after the mid 80s, he remained a top concert draw.
  • In 2017, Pride received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2020 the Country Music Association gave him their Lifetime Achievement Award. Pride performed Kiss An Angel Good Morning at the ceremony, and it would be his last public appearance – he died from COVID complications one month after the ceremony. Want to see his final performance? Here is Pride singing his signature song at the CMA awards, joined on stage by Jimmie Allen. RIP Charley.

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