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Charley Pride - Country Singer

Broke racial barriers to become a country-western star

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Updated April 15, 2014

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Charley Pride in 2013

Rick Diamond / Getty Images

Country singer Charley Pride was born on March 18, 1938, into a sharecropping family with 11 children. Drawn to the radio music of Hank Williams and Roy Acuff, he acquired a Sears Roebuck guitar and taught himself to play at age 14.

Pride hoped to make his name as a baseball player, and played in the Negro Leagues for some time, entertaining teammates on the bus with his guitar and singing, and gaining stage experience by joining bands in performance from time to time. When it became clear he was not going to be a major league ballplayer, he turned to music.

A trip to Nashville, Tennessee proved lucky. Producer Jack Clement arranged for Pride to make a demo recording of two songs, and when Chet Atkins of RCA Records heard the demo, he offered Pride a recording contract.

Country Capsule told the next part of the story well:

  • In 1966, Charley's first single, "The Snakes Crawl at Night," hit the airwaves and his his unique place in country music was set. He went on tour in support of the single and made his biggest public appearance at a show in Detroit. When Charley stepped on stage he was greeted with loud applause, which got lower and lower in volume until near silence as most of the audience began to make the realization that he was a black country singer. But Charley Pride's music prevailed and after the show he was besieged with autograph seekers and the rest, as they say, is history.

Pride's second single, "Just Between You and Me," received a Grammy nomination in 1966, and his best known American hit, "Kiss an Angel Good Morning," was released in 1970. His awards fairly tumbled over themselves during the 1970s, and he has remained an important figure in country music to this day. In 1993 he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, and in 2000 into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

His biography Pride, now out of print, was published in 1994 and revealed that he was diagnosed with manic depression, but it does not appear that this has interfered with his career. Certainly he has been successful in many arenas - he has or has had interests banking, theater (he owns and operates the Charley Pride Theater in Branson, Missouri), real estate, radio and publishing, while enjoying golf and working out each year with the Texas Rangers baseball team.

He has been married to Rozene since 1956, and they have three children.

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