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|Charley Frank Pride|
March 18, 1934|
Sledge, Mississippi, U.S.
|Singer, musician, recording artist, performer, business owner|
Charley Frank Pride (born March 18, 1934) is an American country music singer, musician/guitarist, recording artist, performer, business owner, and former baseball player. His greatest musical success came in the early to mid-1970s, when he became the best-selling performer for RCA Records since Elvis Presley. During the peak years of his recording career (1966-87), he garnered 52 top-10 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, 40 of which made it to Number One. He has appeared with country music star Brad Paisley and was featured in the 2016 CMA Awards.
Pride is one of the few African Americans to have enjoyed considerable success in the country music industry and one of only three (along with DeFord Bailey and Darius Rucker) to have been inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.
Pride was born in Sledge, Mississippi, one of 11 children of poor sharecroppers. His father intended to name him Charl Frank Pride, but owing to a clerical error on his birth certificate, his legal name is Charley Frank Pride. Eight boys and three girls were in the family. He married Rozene Cohran in 1956.
When Pride was 14, his mother purchased him his first guitar and he taught himself to play. Though he loved music, one of Pride's lifelong dreams was to become a professional baseball player. In 1952, he pitched for the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League. In 1953 he signed a contract with the Boise Yankees, the Class C farm team of the New York Yankees. During that season, an injury caused him to lose the "mustard" on his fastball, and he was sent to the Yankees' Class D team in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Later that season, while in the Negro Leagues with the Louisville Clippers, another player (Jesse Mitchell) and he were traded to the Birmingham Black Barons for a team bus. "Jesse and I may have the distinction of being the only players in history to be traded for a used motor vehicle," Pride mused in his 1994 autobiography.
He pitched for several other minor league teams, his hopes of making it to the big leagues still alive, but the Army derailed this. After serving two years in the military, he tried to return to baseball. Though hindered by an injury to his throwing arm, Pride played three games for the Missoula Timberjacks of the Pioneer League (a farm club of the Cincinnati Reds) in 1960, and had tryouts with the California Angels (1961) and the New York Mets (1962) organizations, but was not picked up by either team.
When he was laid off by the Timberjacks, he moved to work construction in Helena, Montana, in 1960. He was recruited to pitch for the local semipro baseball team, the East Helena Smelterites, and the team manager helped him get a job at the local Asarco lead smelter. The lead smelter kept 18 jobs open specifically for baseball players, and arranged their shifts so they could play as a team. Pride batted .444 his first year.
Pride's singing ability soon came to the attention of the team manager, who also paid him to sing for 15 minutes before each game, which increased attendance and earned Pride another $10 on top of the $10 he earned for each game. He also played gigs in the local area, both solo and with a band called the Night Hawks, and Asarco asked him to sing at company picnics. His job at the smelter was dangerous and difficult; he once broke his ankle. He routinely unloaded coal from railroad cars, shoveling it into a 2,400 F furnace while keeping clear of slag, a task which frequently gave him burns. In a 2014 interview, Pride explained, "I would work at the smelter, work the swing shift and then play music," said Pride. "I'd work 11-7. Drive. Play Friday. Punch in. Drive. Polson. Philipsburg."
Between his smelter job and his music, he made a good living in the Helena area. He moved his wife and son to join him and they lived in Helena until 1967, purchasing their first home there, and with their children Dion and Angela being born at the local hospital. The Pride family moved to Great Falls, Montana, in 1967, because Pride's music career was taking off and he required quicker access to an airport. The family ultimately left Montana and moved to Texas in 1969. In a 1967 interview with the Helena Independent Record, Rozene commented that the family encountered minor racism in Montana, citing an incident where they were refused service in a restaurant and another time when a realtor refused to show them a home, but she felt that the family endured less racism than she saw leveled against local Native American people, whose treatment she compared to that given to black people in the South. Pride has generally spoken with fondness of the near-decade he spent there. "Montana is a very conservative state...I stood out like a neon. But once they let you in, you become a Montanan. When the rumor was that I was leaving. They kept saying, 'we will let you in, you can't leave.'"
On June 5, 2008, Pride and his brother Mack "The Knife" Pride and 28 other living former Negro League players were "drafted" by each of the 30 Major League Baseball teams in a recognition of the on-field achievements and historical relevance of 30 mostly forgotten, Negro-League stars. Pride was picked by the Texas Rangers, with whom he has had a long affiliation, and the Colorado Rockies took his brother.
While he was active in baseball, Pride had been encouraged to join the music business by country stars such as Red Sovine and Red Foley, and was working towards this career. In 1958, in Memphis, Pride visited Sun Studios and recorded some songs. One song has survived on tape, and was released in the United Kingdom as part of a box set. The song is a slow stroll in walking tempo called "Walkin' (the Stroll)".
He played music at clubs in Montana solo and with a four-piece combo called the Night Hawks during the time he lived in Montana. His break came when Chet Atkins at RCA Victor heard a demonstration tape and got Pride a contract. In 1966, he released his first RCA Victor single, "The Snakes Crawl at Night". Nashville manager and agent Jack D. Johnson signed Pride. Atkins was the longtime producer at RCA Victor who had made stars out of country singers such as Jim Reeves, Skeeter Davis, and others. Pride was signed to RCA Victor in 1965. "The Snakes Crawl at Night" did not chart. On the records of this song submitted to radio stations for airplay, the singer was listed as "Country Charley Pride". Pride disputes that the omission of a photo was deliberate; he stated that getting promoters to bring in a black country singer was a bigger problem: "people didn't care if I was pink. RCA signed me... they knew I was colored...They decided to put the record out and let it speak for itself." While living in Montana, he continued to sing at local clubs, and in Great Falls had an additional boost to his career when he befriended local businessman Louis Allen "Al" Donohue, who owned radio stations including KMON, the first stations to play Pride's records in Montana.
Soon after the release of "The Snakes Crawl at Night", Pride released another single called "Before I Met You", which also did not chart. Soon after, Pride's third single, "Just Between You and Me", was released. This song finally brought Pride success on the country charts. The song reached number nine on the US country chart.
The success of "Just Between You and Me" was enormous. He was nominated for a Grammy Award for the song the next year.
In 1967, he became the first black performer to appear at the Grand Ole Opry since harmonica player DeFord Bailey, who was a regular cast member of the Opry from 1925 through 1941, and made a final appearance in 1974.
Between 1969 and 1971, Pride had eight singles that simultaneously reached number one on the US Country Hit Parade and also charted on the Billboard Hot 100: "All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)", "(I'm So) Afraid of Losing You Again", "I Can't Believe That You've Stopped Loving Me", "I'd Rather Love You", "Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone", "Wonder Could I Live There Anymore", "I'm Just Me", and "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'". The pop success of these songs reflected the country/pop crossover sound that was reaching country music in the 1960s and early 1970s, known as "Countrypolitan". In 1969, his compilation album, The Best of Charley Pride, sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. Ultimately, Elvis Presley was the only artist who sold more records than Pride for the RCA label.
Pride sang the main soundtrack song "All His Children" for the Paul Newman-directed film Sometimes a Great Notion in 1970. The film starred Newman and Henry Fonda and received two Oscar nominations in 1972, one being for the song that Pride sang.
In 1971, he released what would become his biggest hit, "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'", a million-selling crossover single that helped Pride land the Country Music Association's prestigious Entertainer of the Year award, as well as Top Male Vocalist. He won CMA's Top Male Vocalist award again in 1972.
"Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'" became Pride's signature tune. Besides being a five-week country number one in late 1971 and early 1972, the song was also his only pop top-40 hit, hitting number 21, and reaching the top 10 of the Adult Contemporary charts, as well.
During the rest of the 1970s and into the 1980s, Pride continued to rack up country music hits. Other Pride standards then include "Mississippi Cotton Picking Delta Town", "Someone Loves You, Honey", "When I Stop Leavin' (I'll Be Gone)", "Burgers and Fries", "I Don't Think She's in Love Anymore", "Roll on Mississippi", "Never Been So Loved (In All My Life)", and "You're So Good When You're Bad". Like many other country performers, he has paid tribute to Hank Williams, with an album of songs that were all written by Hank entitled There's a Little Bit of Hank in Me, which included top-sellers of Williams' classics "Kaw-Liga", "Honky Tonk Blues", and "You Win Again". Pride has sold over 70 million records (singles, albums, and compilation included).
In 1975, Pride's agent sold a 40-date tour package to a United Kingdom booking agent, who onward sold four dates to Dublin-based Irish music promoter Jim Aiken. At the time, the Troubles the ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland were at their height, and few nonresident music and sports teams traveled there. Aiken subsequently traveled to Pride's winter 1975/'76 concert in Ohio, and persuaded Pride to play one of the concerts at Belfast's Ritz Cinema. Pride played the concert in November 1976, with his album song "Crystal Chandeliers" subsequently being released as a single in the UK and Ireland. Pride subsequently became a hero to both sides of the conflict for breaking the effective touring concert ban, his song "Crystal Chandeliers" seen as a unity song, and he enabled Aiken to book further acts into Northern Ireland after his appearance.
Pride remained with RCA Records until 1986. At that point, he grew angry over the fact that RCA began downsizing its country music roster by not renewing the contracts of many older country artists who had been with the label for several years, such as Dolly Parton, John Denver, Juice Newton and Sylvia. He moved on to 16th Avenue Records, where Pride bounced back with the number-five hit, "Shouldn't it be Easier Than This". He had a few minor hits with 16th Avenue, as well.
Pride's lifelong passion for baseball continues; he has an annual tradition of joining the Texas Rangers for workouts during spring training. A big Rangers fan (Dallas has been his home for many years), Pride is often seen at their games.
He performed the national anthem at Super Bowl VIII and again at game five of the 2010 World Series, accompanied both years by the Del Rio High School JROTC Color Guard. He performed the national anthem before game six of the 1980 World Series, as well.
In 2016, Pride was selected as one of 30 artists to perform on Forever Country, a mash-up track of "Take Me Home, Country Roads", "On the Road Again", and "I Will Always Love You", which celebrates 50 years of the CMA Awards. Pride released his first album in six years, titled Music in My Heart, on July 7, 2017.
Pride met his wife Rozene while he was playing baseball in the Southern states. They married in 1956 and have two sons, Kraig and Dion, and a daughter, Angela. They currently reside in Dallas, Texas. Kraig now goes by the name Carlton and has somewhat followed in his father's footsteps as a performing artist. His band, Carlton Pride and Zion started in San Marcos, Texas, in 1995 and they perform a variety of reggae, funk, and soul music throughout the United States.
Dion Pride played lead guitar for his father, and entertained troops on USO tours in Panama, Honduras, Guantnamo Bay, and the island of Antigua. Dion Pride cowrote a song on Charley Pride's 2010 album Choices titled "I Miss My Home".
In 1994, Pride cowrote (with Jim Henderson) his autobiography, Pride: The Charley Pride Story. In this book, he reveals that he has struggled for years with manic depression.
Pride had a tumor removed from his right vocal cord in 1997 at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He returned to the site in February 2009 for a routine checkup and surprised the Arkansas Senate with an unplanned performance of five songs. He was joined by Governor Mike Beebe during the show. Pride is an avid fan and part owner of the Texas Rangers. He sang the national anthem before game five of the 2010 World Series, played between the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants. Pride sang the national anthem before game two of the 2011 ALCS between the Detroit Tigers and the Rangers. He also sang the national anthem and "America the Beautiful" prior to Super Bowl VIII.
On January 20, 2014, he sang the national anthem and performed at halftime for the Memphis Grizzlies, which hosted their 12th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Day. He also was interviewed during a break in the game that was televised nationally on NBA TV and SportSouth.