Born in Sledge, Mississippi, on 18 March 1938, country singer Charley Frank Pride was one of eleven children born to sharecroppers and cotton pickers. Pride grew up working in the fields near his home and developed two loves, country music and baseball. At age fourteen he bought his first guitar, a Silvertone, from Sears, Roebuck, and Company and taught himself how to play. According to childhood friends, he played both baseball and the six-string every day.
In 1955 Pride traveled to Loew’s State Theatre in Memphis for a talent competition. The next day he attended a baseball tryout and landed a job as a pitcher and outfielder in the Negro Leagues. In late 1956 he was drafted by the US Army, and he served through early 1958. He subsequently resumed his baseball career, playing in the Negro Leagues in the late 1950s before moving to Montana and working as a smelter and playing semipro ball in the early 1960s. After unsuccessful tryouts with Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Angels and New York Mets, his baseball career came to an end. Pride married Rozene Cochran in Memphis in December 1957, and they went on to have three children.
While in Montana, Pride had begun a music career, singing the national anthem at baseball games and performing in honky-tonks and nightclubs. He went to Nashville, where a recording session with Jack Clement led to his signing with Chet Atkins, vice president of RCA Records. In 1965 RCA released Pride’s first single, “Snakes Crawl at Night.” Pride had his first No. 1 single with 1969’s “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me).” In 1971 he released “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” which became his best-selling record and earned a Grammy Award as the year’s Best Country Song. That year, he also earned the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year and Top Male Vocalist Awards.
Pride’s résumé includes thirty-six No. 1 singles and more than seventy million albums sold. He made his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry on 1 January 1967, and as he recalled, “Ernest Tubb brought me on, and I was more nervous than a cat on a hot tin roof.” On 1 May 1993 he became the first African American member of the Grand Ole Opry. In 2000 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and in 2008 he received a lifetime achievement award from the Mississippi Arts Commission. With his smooth, baritone voice, Pride takes concertgoers back to a time in country music before the flash and glamour of many of today’s current singers.
Pride continues to record new music and to tour both in the United States and around the world. A longtime resident of Dallas, Texas, Pride has kept close connections to Mississippi. Two of his hit songs are “Mississippi Cotton Picking Delta Town” and “Roll on Mississippi.” In 2003 the State of Mississippi named a thirty-three-mile stretch of Highway 3—from Sledge south to Tutwiler—the Charley Pride Highway, and in 2011 he was honored with a marker on the Mississippi Country Music Trail. In July 2009 he performed at the White House for Pres. Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. An avid fan of baseball and particularly the Texas Rangers, Pride is a member of the group that bought the team in 2010.
- Paul Kingsbury, ed., The Encyclopedia of Country Music: The Ultimate Guide to the Music (1998)
- Mississippi Country Music Trail website, www.mscountrymusictrail.org
- Charley Pride, Pride: The Charley Pride Story (1995)
- Charley Pride website, www.charleypride.com