With 36 No. 1 hits and more than 25 million albums sold, Charley Pride is a true country music legend. The journey, however, was not without its share of challenges.
Born to poor Mississippi sharecroppers, Charley was one of 11 children. At 14, he bought a guitar and taught himself to play. Unofficially starting his music career while playing baseball in the Negro American League with the Memphis Red Sox, Charley sang on the team bus between ballparks. Following a tryout with the New York Mets, Charley returned home — but not before making a trip to Nashville. Manager Jack Johnson heard Charley and promised that a recording contract would follow.
A year later, Charley returned to Nashville and was introduced to producer Cowboy Jack Clement, who asked him to cut a couple of new songs, including one that became his debut hit, “The Snakes Crawl at Night.” During a public appearance in support of the single at a Detroit show, he stepped onstage to thunderous applause that soon turned to dead silence as the audience realized Charley was African American. Race, however, ultimately didn’t matter to the country music audience.
From 1966 to 1984, the overwhelming majority of his more than 50 singles reached the Top 10, with more than half hitting No. 1, including “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” (a pop-country crossover million-seller), “Mountain of Love” and “Is Anybody Going to San Antone?” In 1971, the Country Music Association named him its Entertainer of the Year.
“I’m a very fortunate entertainer because a lot of artists don’t have but maybe one signature song,” Charley says. “I’m fortunate enough to have about four or five. If I leave one or two out of my show, I’m going to hear something about it before the night’s over.”
In 1967 Charley made his Grand Ole Opry debut. “I was so nervous I don’t know how I got through those two songs,” he says of that night. “It’s hard to remember that far back because it’s been a while, but I remember how nervous I was – that, I can tell you. It was something.”
In 1993, 26 years after he first played the show as a guest, Charley joined the Grand Ole Opry. Remembering his initial dream of baseball stardom, Charley said, “It’s as if I had made it in baseball and they came up to me and took me to Cooperstown and said, ‘This is where your plaque is going to be — beside Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron.'”
In 2000, Charley joined the ranks of another elite country music group when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In 2005, Charley and his wife, Rozene, whom he met during his ball-playing days in Memphis, celebrated 50 years of marriage. The couple has two sons, Kraig and Dion, and a daughter, Angela. Currently living in Dallas, Charley spends much of his time at home with his grandchildren and also keeps up his golf game.