Charley Pride was born to poor sharecroppers in Sledge, Mississippi. He was one of eleven children. Pride is a timeless everyman, revered by his musical peers and adored by countless millions of fans around the globe. His golden baritone voice has transcended race and spanned the generations.
Charley Pride unofficially started his music career in the late 1950s as a ballplayer with the Negro American League’s Memphis Red Sox singing and playing guitar on the team bus between ballparks. Self-taught on a guitar bought at age 14 from Sears Roebuck, Pride would join various bands' onstage as he and the team toured the country.
After a tryout with the New York Mets, Pride decided to return to his Montana home via Nashville. It was there he met Jack Johnson, who upon hearing the singer perform, sent him on his way with the promise of a management contract, and a newly forged relationship that would last for over a decade.
A year later, Pride returned to the Music City and was introduced to producer, Jack Clement, who gave him several songs to learn. When Clement heard Pride’s renditions, he immediately asked the fledgling singer if he could cut two songs in two hours. Pride agreed, and “The Snakes Crawl at Night” and “Atlantic Coastal Line” was recorded that day.
Three months later, Pride’s two song demo landed in the hands of already legendary RCA Records head, Chet Atkins, who was so moved he immediately signed him to the label. Pride’s first single hit the airwaves in January 1966 and just like that his star was on the rise. Within a short period of time “The Snakes Crawl at Night” was climbing the charts with “Before I Met You” closing in on its tail.
Charley Pride has always set his own goals. One of those goals was to become an internationally known artist. He achieved this by performing in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Fiji as well as the provinces of Canada. Charley still tours these countries today and even takes in a few extra countries on USO Tours entertaining our service men and women who are stationed overseas. Between 1969, when he first hit #1 on the singles chart with "All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)" and in 1984, he commanded the top spot again with "Every Heart Should Have One."
Over the past thirty years, Pride has remained one of the Top 20 best-selling country artists of all-time. His incredible legacy includes 36 #1 hit singles, over 70 million albums sold, 31 gold and 4 platinum albums – including one that went quadruple platinum. On RCA Records, Charley Pride is second in sales only to Elvis Presley. Dozens of Pride's chart toppers now stand as modern classics. "Kiss An Angel Good Morning" went on to be a million-selling crossover single and helped Pride land the Country Music Association Awards “Entertainer of the Year” in 1971 and “Top Male Vocalist” in 1971 and 1972.
Other memorable Pride standards include "Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone?" "I'm So Afraid of Losing You Again," "Mississippi Cotton Picking Delta Town," "Someone Loves You Honey," "When I Stop Leaving, I'll be gone," "Burgers and Fries," and "You're So Good When You're Bad," just to name a few. His moving performances of Hank Williams classics "Kaw-Liga" and "Honky Tonk Blues" on his #1 album, "There's a Little Bit of Hank in Me", was certified Gold. In 1994, Charley released his autobiography, Pride: The Charley Pride Story (published by William Morrow). Aside from detailing great moments of his amazing career and journeyman stint as a ballplayer, Pride is an often moving and sometimes hilarious tale of his almost improbable dream come true, and journey to the top of the charts.
In his own words, Charley recalls his hardscrabble childhood, enduring marriage, the thrill of his biggest hit, a double into the outfield gap off Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, and his first singing engagement in a Montana bar that eventually led to a career as the first and only African-American superstar in country music!
Through it all, we are reminded that "The Pride of Country Music" remains one of the great legends in popular music, and that he is still going strong. On May 1, 1993, Pride accepted a long-standing invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry 26 years after he first played there as a guest, the first African-American in its over 70 year history. In June 1994, Pride was honored by the Academy Of Country Music with its prestigious Pioneer Award. In January 1996, Charley Pride was honored with a Trumpet Award by Turner Broadcasting, marking outstanding African-American Achievement. In between, "Roll On Mississippi" was considered as the official song of his home state. A stretch of the Mississippi highway was named in honor of Charley, and he headlined a special Christmas performance for President and Mrs. Clinton at the White House.
In July 1999, Charley received his very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. On October 4th, 2000 Charley was honored with the highest honor of being a country music artist, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Charley wept when his name was announced by Hall of Famer, Brenda Lee. Just in case music should leave his blood, Pride continues to work out annually with baseball's Texas Rangers. When not touring extensively world wide or recording music, Pride can often be found pursuing another love, one at which he also excels at, golfing.
Charley Pride met the love of his life, Rozene, while playing baseball in Memphis. They have two sons, Kraig and Dion, as well as a daughter, Angela. They also enjoy their grandsons, Carlton and Malachi in Dallas, Texas, where their family resides. Pride continues his illustrious career with the release of “Comfort of Her Wings” on Music City Records. The album shows that Charley has not slowed down and proves his voice is as good, if not better than ever.
(CSC) 1. It is great to be here with you. Please tell us what’s new with Charley Pride?
I’ve been doing the same thing I’ve always done all these years. I’m still doing my shows. As far as performing I’m with a small label, and we’re planning to release an album in the next six to eight months. I’m meeting with a man named Doug Cornette from California to discuss the details of a possible movie about my life and career. Terrence Howard was on the Oprah show recently and mentioned that he would like to play my part in the movie. My wife and I had the chance to finally meet him at the Trumpet Awards out in Las Vegas. He’s been in a lot of successful movies. The writer’s strike that they had out in California threw everything back. We tried to reach an agreement before the strike’s deadline, but we never got it worked out. We are going to start working on the script, and see where it ends up. I’ve got about four or five generations that I’m singing to so that’s pretty good.
(CSC) 2. You were one of eleven children. Growing up as a young man in Mississippi, what was daily life like for you and your family?
It was routine in the sense that we all had chores to do. There were eight boys and three girls, and we were farmers. We’d feed the hogs, milk the cows, and wash the dishes, but the boys didn’t wash the dishes, the girls did that. We picked up chips in the evening so mama could get the fire started so we could be in the field by sun up. My dad did some haircutting when he was a barber. He did that on the side to make extra money. My mother was married previously to marrying my father. She had two children from that first marriage. It was hard work but I learned a lot from my family. My mother was very special to me. She passed away at 47 years old; she went up there to be with the master. I never thought that she would have left us that early. Maybe she had some way of knowing or believing that. She taught me never to go around with a chip on my shoulder. By him (The Lord) taking her early, she was able to watch over me while I did all these things. It made it easier for me in losing her that early in a sense. She would have been a 100 years old three days ago, had she stayed here. So, I think about that all the time. That has helped me to be able to prepare myself to have the attitude to get where I am today.
(CSC) 3. Were did you get your musical influences from? Was anybody else in your family musically gifted like yourself?
Actually, we all sing! Matter of a fact, my younger brother is going to open my shows for me on my Canadian tour coming up in a few weeks. I took both my youngest son and my younger brother over to Ireland this past March to perform shows. It was a very successful sold-out tour. It was a great opportunity to be able to perform with them overseas. I took my youngest son to Canada with me this past May, and he got a standing ovation from the audience. It was his second or third time over there with me. He’s really a beautiful singer.
(CSC) 4. Before pursuing a full-time career in the music business, you played for the Memphis Red Sox in the late 1950’s. What prompted the switch from baseball to show business?
Well back then, if you weren’t in the majors by the time, you were 25, you were scratched off the list. I had a few injuries but I made it to the Angels in 1961, I just didn‘t stay with them. There were only sixteen clubs when I was coming along, and now there are twenty-six, there are some good ball players on each club, but it’s got to be a little deluded nowadays.
(CSC) 5. I’d like to go back a few years to the early days of your singing career. What was the most challenging part of being a NEW artist in the Nashville community?
I’d say trying to keep the butterflies as low as possible. (Laughs) In the beginning, a lot of people thought I must have had it hard, but I really didn’t. I never heard any derogatory remarks from my audiences; when I would tell that to the reporters that would look at me as if I was lying. So, I would start to name off my achievements and accomplishments, starting with my #1 singles that I’ve had, being second to Elvis Presley for selling the most records on RCA (That’s not my saying, that’s RCA’s figures), my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and being a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Back then I would stop there, but now I can say that I’m a part of the Hall of Fame. I was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000. I asked the reporters, “What would it benefit me to sit here and lie? If they had called me the “N” word every time I went onstage, I’m a success. So why should I lie?” They would ask me, “Why do you think that, or feel that way?” I’d tell them that I’ve always felt that I was an American, whatever I would say or do, and that has always been my belief. Once I opened my mouth, I shocked a lot of people because they put my words with a white face. After I would come out and start singing, they couldn’t care if I was green or purple, because they were letting me be what I’ve always believed I was; an American singing country music with a more permanent tan than anyone else had.
(CSC) 6. You’ve been given numerous awards that have been voted on by your fans, and your peers; which one is more important to you and why?
I was just talking about that this morning when I boarded my flight. That thought occurred to me because I usually say all of them, but I think I can narrow it down to what I told you earlier about the lack of derogatory remarks from my audiences out of my entire career and all its successes. I think that is the best feeling that I can think of. By people not doing the things that they thought should have happened in terms of that part of it. I’m appreciative of everything that I’ve ever received. I think I’m going to put that at the top of the list.
(CSC) 7. Being that you possess a versatile singing voice, I’d like to ask why did you decide to sing country music rather than any other genre of music?
That’s been asked a lot and I believe in America. We have three basic ingredients in American music, and that’s country, gospel, and the blues. Not necessarily in that order but each one is borrowed from the other over the years and everything that came after those three basics is where we are. This country didn’t start off with Bach and Beethoven, it started off with those three basic things. When RCA let me go, I made a pop-influenced album in the studio and it was a huge success in New Zealand and Australia. They really loved it over there. It’s been about twenty years since I made that album. I enjoy listening to B.B. King and some of his blue’s songs. I believe that I could do justice to pop music, gospel, and the blues if I wanted to sing them, but I don’t believe I could do it as much justice as I would in country music. When I bought myself a Sears Roebuck guitar, I emulated all the locals and Grand Ole Opry stars. I was born about fifty-five miles below Memphis, TN. We used to visit there often with our family.
(CSC) 8. You joined the Grand Ole Opry on May 1st, 1993. Please tell me about the evening of your induction, and what does it mean to you to be a part of the Grand Ole Opry family?
Well, I had been playing the Opry since 1967, but it’s different when you become a member, because you become family with all the big stars that have played there before, it’s a great feeling. I had a standing invitation to join the Opry since 1967, but they had a requirement that you had to play twenty-six Saturdays per year, and those were the best days where you could draw and make your money out on the road. You weren’t making that much when I was starting out. (Laughs) I made about a nickel a single from RCA, and a hundred to two hundred dollars for a gig on the road. So, at that time, it was an economical thing for me, and I didn’t argue with it. Country music basically is known for that factor, it’s like a family, all for one and one for all. It‘s not that way now as much, but it was back when I came along.
(CSC) 9. Speaking of the Grand Ole Opry, who are some fellow Opry members you’ve had the opportunity to become good friends with throughout the years?
Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, Eddie Arnold, and Minnie Pearl are just a few of the greats I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with throughout the many years I’ve been a part of the Grand Ole Opry. All those people were such great entertainers, and wonderful people to be around. I am very grateful to have known them. They are all greatly missed.
(CSC) 10. You’ve traveled internationally for many years bringing country music to a whole new audience! What are some of your favorite countries to visit, and how do the country music fans overseas compare to American county music fans?
It really depends on the degree of response. Ireland would have to be at the top of the list as far as response. “Crystal Chandelier” was released over there about three or four times, and it’s like the National Anthem over there. I had no idea about Northern Ireland or the republic of Ireland, and what it really entailed to that effect at the time I was performing over there. No matter where I perform over there, we always receive great enthusiasm and appreciation! I’m a very fortunate entertainer. There aren’t too many artists out there that have had more signature songs than I have.
(CSC) 11. Your son Dion has performed with you on previous occasions. Do you plan to record with him in the near future?
We recorded a song back in 1981 when he was about 19 years old and it was called “Tennessee Girl.” I bring him onstage during my shows to perform the song with me and he always receives standing ovations from the audience. It’s amazing because we have sold-out shows, and to share that with my son is very special to me.
(CSC) 12. Your voice is timeless, and sounds no different from the day you began in the business. With constant touring and recording, how do you maintain your voice?
I think I was born with it, and it’s a blessing. I grew up in Mississippi and my cousin and I used to use our voice when we younger as signals; you know like they do in the jungles of Africa with the drums and the noise. I used to curl my voice and use the high pitches, and I could imitate anything I wanted to do with it. I once won a contest imitating different sounds. I never had any trouble with hoarseness or anything. I can get out of bed, grab a guitar, and start singing. I don’t have to warm up or anything. These artists today do vocal warm-ups before their shows and have routines like that to get their voices ready, I’ve never needed to do that. I do test myself in the shower, I’ll sing sometimes to check out my voice just to make sure it sounds right. I had an operation on my right vocal cord, and I lost the real low bottom note, but I can sing in four octaves.
(CSC) 13. You and your wife Rozene have been married now for over 52 years. What is your secret to a successful marriage?
I’m going to say this, and it’s probably the best answer that can be given. She loves me and she put up with me. I love her and I guess it’s both ways, we’ve put up with each other. We are so independent and so much a like, that I guess we balanced it out that way. We never argued about the things that most people argue about such as finances and money, things like that are what cause divorce. I never was going to let myself be worried about that. When I got married, I had five bucks to my name; I think she had a little more than I did. We went to the movies when we could; if we were going to go to a movie, we’d eat white beans so we could afford the movie. We never overspent our means. Sometimes I have to remind my wife that we’re not in that position anymore like we were when we first married; financially wise. (Laughs) I’m her third arm and she’s my third arm. Without her I’d be lost all these years. The key thing was we never overspent our money, and we still don’t till this day. When I first met her, I didn’t want her to work. We got married in 1956, and shortly after that I bought a 1954 convertible. I told her, “I just want you to ride around in that car and look pretty; let the wind blow through your hair.” Looking back now she told me that it went out the window pretty fast because she’s been working all her life. (Laughs)
(CSC) 14. What would you like to tell your fans that are reading this interview?
I still love them the same as I did, even more than when I first started in the business. I am thankful for their support, and for helping me be who I am and where I am today!