Charley Pride (1938-2020)

Charley Pride, Inauguration Day gala celebration, January 20, 1981
Charley Pride, Inauguration Day gala celebration, January 20, 1981
Photo by Greg Mathison, U.S. Department of Defense. Photo in Public Domain (CC0)

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Charley Pride, born on March 18, 1938, on a cotton farm in Sledge, Mississippi, eventually became one of the most successful black entertainers in country music. Although he loved music and taught himself to play the guitar as a teenager, Pride’s first dream was to become a professional baseball player. In the early 1950s, Pride’s career was a combination of baseball and singing.

In 1955 he began playing baseball for the American Negro League. He eventually played for Detroit, Memphis, and Birmingham before being drafted into the Army. By 1960 Pride had left semi-professional baseball and the American Negro League to try out unsuccessfully for the New York Mets. When it became apparent that he was not destined for baseball, he turned his attention to pursuing a career in country music.

Pride’s singing caught the attention of Chet Atkins, a producer at RCA Records. Atkins recognized Pride’s talent and signed him to an RCA contract. In 1966, Pride recorded his first single, “Snakes Crawl at Night.” Two of his best and most popular songs followed, Before I Met You and Just Between You and Me, which brought Pride not only success on the country charts but also a Grammy Award in 1967.

Pride’s race was kept hidden from the fans through the release of his first three singles. When he made his first public appearance in Detroit, the fans were surprised and silent; his music prevailed, and after the show, he was besieged by autograph seekers.

Pride has topped the country singles charts 29 times over the years with songs that now stand as modern classics. Kiss an Angel Good Morning became a million-selling crossover single. His RCA singles routinely reached the Top 10 through 1984.

Pride’s business acumen was beginning to equal that of his recording career by the mid-1980s. During this period, Pride divided his time between music and business activities in banking, broadcasting, and real estate. He is the major stockholder in the largest minority-owned bank in Texas, the First Texas Bank. He has owned four radio stations and has extensive real estate holdings across the country, including the Charley Pride Theatre in Branson, Missouri. Pride stays actively involved in the music industry through his publishing company, The Pride Group, and his production company.

In 1993, Charley Pride was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, 26 years after he first played there as a guest. He was awarded the prestigious Academy of Country Music’s Pioneer Award in 1994 and the Turner Broadcasting Trumpet Award for career achievement in 1995. In 2000, he was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2008, Pride received the Mississippi Arts Commission’s lifetime achievement award during the organization’s Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts.

Charley Pride was the most successful black entertainer in country music. His singing and playing gave him a successful life, but his passion for baseball continued. He traditionally joined the Texas Rangers for workouts during spring training and was often seen at games.

Pride passed away on December 12, 2020, in Dallas, TX, of complications from COVID-19. He was 86.