Charley Frank Pride (born March 18, 1938) is an American country music singer, musician/guitarist, recording artist, performer, and business owner. His greatest musical success came in the early- to mid-1970s when he became the best-selling performer for RCA Records since Elvis Presley. In total, he has garnered 39 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts.
Pride is one of the few African-Americans to have had considerable success in the country music industry and one of only three African-Americans (along with DeFord Bailey and Darius Rucker) to have been inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
In 2010, Pride became a special investor and minority owner of the Texas Rangers Major League Baseball club.
Early life and career:
Pride was born in Sledge, Mississippi, one of eleven 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. There were eight boys and three girls in the family. He married Rozene Cohan in 1956.
At the age of 14, Pride's mother purchased his first guitar and he taught himself to play. Though he also 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. He pitched well, and 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, he and another player (Jesse Mitchell) 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 semi-pro 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 a .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 Aasarco asked him to sing at company picnics. His job at the smelter was dangerous and difficult. He once broke his ankle, and routinely unloaded coal from railroad cars and shoveled it into a 2,400 degree furnace, which he also had to keep 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.
Rise to music fame:
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, Tennessee, 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 demo 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". At this time, country music was a white medium. Jack made sure that there were no pictures of Pride distributed for the first two years of his career, in order to avoid the effects of Jim Crowism. 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 was the one that finally brought Pride success on the Country charts. The song reached No. 9 on US Country chart.
Height of his career:
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. Pride also appeared in 1967 on the American Broadcasting Company's "The Lawrence Welk Show". In 1975, he was one of the stars of Bob Hope's Stars and Stripes Show emceed by John Davidson and filmed in front of a live audience in Oklahoma City to celebrate the United States Bicentennial.
Between 1969 and 1971, Pride had eight single records that simultaneously reached No. 1 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 for the RCA label than did Pride.
Pride sang the Paul Newman directed film Sometimes a Great Notion's main soundtrack song "All His Children" in 1970. The film starred Newman and Henry Fonda and received two Oscar nominations in 1972, one being for the song that Pride sang.
"Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'":
In 1971, he would release 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 No. 1 in late 1971 and early 1972, the song was also his only pop Top 40 hit, hitting No. 21, and reaching the Top Ten of the Adult Contemporary charts as well.
1970s and Northern Ireland:
During the rest of the 1970s and into the 1980s, Pride continued to rack up country music hits. Other Pride standards of the 1970s and 1980s 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, 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 Aitkien. At the time, The Troubles (Irish: Na Trioblóidí) the ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland were at their height, and most non-resident music and sport teams were not traveling to Northern Ireland through fear of becoming involved or injured. Aitken subsequently traveled to Pride's winter 75/6 concert in Ohio, and persuaded Pride to play one of the concert's 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 Aitken to book further acts into Northern Ireland post his appearance.
1980s and beyond:
Pride remained with RCA Records until 1986. At that point, he grew angry over the fact that RCA began to promote newer country artists and didn't renew contracts with many older artists who had been with the label for years, such as Dolly Parton, John Denver and Sylvia. He moved on to 16th Avenue Records, where Pride bounced back with the No. 5 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.
In 2008, Pride received the Mississippi Arts Commission's lifetime achievement award during the organization's Governor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts.
He performed the National Anthem at Super Bowl VIII and again at Game 5 of the 2010 World Series, accompanied both years by the Del Rio High School JROTC Color Guard. He performed the National Anthem before Game 6 of the 1980 World Series as well.
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, Guantanamo Bay and the island of Antigua. Dion Pride co-wrote a song on Charley Pride's 2010 album "Choices" titled "I Miss My Home".
In 1994 Pride co-wrote (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 5 of the 2010 World Series, played between the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants. Pride sang the national anthem before game 2 of the 2011 ALCS between the Detroit Tigers & Texas Rangers.
On January 20, 2014 he sang the national anthem and performed at halftime for the Memphis Grizzlies who 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 & SportSouth.
On April 29, 2011, it was announced that a biographical film was in the works based on Pride's life and career. The film will be produced by and star actor and professional wrestler, Dwayne Johnson.
1960s, Pride lived in Helena, MT and played legion baseball for the Helena Smelterites.,
January 1966 - "The Snakes Crawl at Night" his first RCA Single is issued, receives airplay but does not chart.,
June 1966 - Second RCA Single - "Before I Met You" also does not chart.,
December 1966 - Makes his debut on the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart with "Just Between You and Me." The song would peak in the top 10 less than three months later; two earlier singles had failed to chart.,
August 9, 1969 - Scores his first Billboard No. 1 hit with "All I Have to Offer You Is Me.",
September 6, 1969 - Pride appears on national television on The Johnny Cash Show to perform a medley of Hank Williams songs with Cash. Pride's medley with Cash can be seen here.,
1971 - Enjoys the biggest hit of his career with the million-seller "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'." The song was his eighth No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, and spent five weeks atop the chart.,
September 17, 1983 - Scores his 29th and final No. 1 hit on Billboard with "Night Games." He still remains sixth on the all-time list of most No. 1 hits on the Billboard country charts. "Night Games" would be the last song performed by a black artist to hit the top of the Billboard country charts until Darius Rucker's "Don't Think I Don't Think About It" reached No. 1 in 2008.,
May 1, 1993 - Pride accepted an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry, in the process becoming the first black Opry regular in the show's more than 70-year history.,
1994 - Pride released his autobiography, Pride: The Charley Pride Story (published by William Morrow).,
June 1994 - Pride was honored by the Academy of Country Music with its prestigious Pioneer Award.,
January 1996 - Pride was honored with a Trumpet Award by Turner Broadcasting, marking outstanding African-American Achievement. His 1981 hit, "Roll on Mississippi", is considered the official song of his home state, a stretch of Mississippi highway was named for him and he headlined a special Christmas performance for President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton at the White House.,
July 1999 - Pride received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.,
March 25, 2003 - Received the Texas Cultural Trust's Texas Medal of Arts.,
March 27, 2003 - Ranked No. 18 on CMT's 40 Greatest Men in Country Music.,
May 20, 2003 - Pride's album, Comfort of Her Wings, was released on Music City Records.,
November 7, 2006 - Pride's album, Pride & Joy: A Gospel Music Collection, was released on Music City Records.,
January 10, 2008 - Received a lifetime achievement award from the Mississippi Arts Commission.