On the Lighter Side: Remembering Charley Pride

Joe Guilbeau

It’s hard to believe it’s been nine months since we’ve lost one of the greatest vocalists in the history of country music, but Charley Pride made such a great impact on the genre.

Pride, the first African American superstar, had a rich baritone voice on such classics as “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” sold millions of records and earned his spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Joe Guilbeau

He died Dec. 12, 2020, in Dallas from complications related to COVID-19.

Pride released dozens of albums and sold more than 25 million records during a career that began in the 1960s. Hits beside “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” in 1971 included “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” “Burgers and Fries,” “Someone Loves You, Honey,” “Mountain of Love” and “All I Have to Offer Is Me.”

He won three Grammy Awards and landed more than 30 No. 1 hits between 1969 and 1984. Only Conway Twitty and George Strait had more chart-toppers.

Pride won the Country Music Association’s “Top Male Vocalist” and “Entertainer of the Year” awards in 1972 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.

Until the early 1990s, when Cleve Francis came along, Pride was the only Black Country singer signed to a major record label. In 1993, he headlined the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington acquired memorabilia from Pride, including a pair of boots and one of the guitars for the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Pride was raised in Sledge, Miss., the son of sharecroppers. He had seven brothers and three sisters.

In 2008, while accepting a National Achievement Award as part of the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, Pride said he never focused on race.

Pride’s sister once asked him why he was singing “their music.”

“But we all understand what the ‘Y’all and Us’ syndrome has been. You see, I never as an individual accepted that, and I truly believe that’s why I’m where I am today.”

As a young man before launching his career, he was a pitcher and outfielder in the Negro American League with the Memphis Red Sox. He played a couple of years before he ended up in Helena, Mont., where he worked in a smelting plant by day and played country music during nightly gigs at area nightclubs.

After a tryout with the New York Mets, he visited Nashville and broke into country music when Chet Atkins, head of RCA Records, signed him after hearing two of his demo tapes.

His first few singles were sent to radio stations without a publicity photo, so his identity was not known.

While still backstage, he was introduced to a large audience, and he received a loud applause. When he walked on stage, the applause died down.

He then won over the audience whey he said, “Listen folks this is the new country music, and you will have to learn to like singers with a permanent suntan.”

By the end of the show, they were applauding him again.