To say Charley Pride had on affect on music is an understatement. He was as much a cultural icon and inspiration as he was a musical powerhouse. Proof of his success lies with the numbers. During his career, Pride accumulated 52 songs that made it to the top-10 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Of those 52, 30 – over half – became number one hits.
In total, the Grand Ole Opry has three African American members. They include Darius Rucker, DeFord Bailey, and Charley Pride himself. Twenty years ago, he became part of the Country Music Hall of Fame. As stated, he has a lot of hit songs, some of which we’ll touch on here as we explore this prodigious force of music.
Musical legend Charley Pride got started in baseball
Everyone discovers their path in different ways. Sometimes, it’s obvious where we’re meant to go and how we should get there. But sometimes, life is more obscure than that. Though famous for his music, Charley Pride started pursuing a dream of playing baseball. He started as early as 14 by pitching, though by then he’d also taught himself to play guitar thanks to a gift from his mother.
Even so, Pride never lost his musical intuition – and people noticed. In fact, his team manager paid Pride to sing for 15 minutes before games. His life became a mix of fun, work, and danger as he also worked as a smelter. He recalled the routine, “I would work at the smelter, work the swing shift and then play music. I’d work 11-7. Drive. Play Friday. Punch in. Drive. Polson. Philipsburg.” Everything followed a similar path until Chet Atkins from RCA Victor heard one of his performances at a music club. By 1966, Charley Pride had released his first single with RCA Victor, “The Snakes Crawl at Night.” Today, it’s a hit, with over two million views on YouTube. But in the past, it did not chart. However, it represents a daring leap Pride took in a world that didn’t always root for him.
Just between you and me, Pride fought and uphill battle and triumphed
Charley Pride’s third single saw things turn around. “Just Between You and Me” followed “Before I Met You,” which did not chart. But “Just between You and Me” reached number nine. on the U.S. country chart. From that point, Pride experienced exponential success, including a Grammy the next year.
He also found a way to confront societal issues through his undeniable success. When he went to perform at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium, no one knew he was black. But the applause tapered when he walked on stage, as everyone processed their surprise. “I knew I’d have to get it over with sooner or later,” Pride recalled. “I told the audience: ‘Friends, I realize it’s a little unique, me coming out here—with a permanent suntan—to sing country and western to you. But that’s the way it is.'”
All he had to offer was making history
In June of 1969, Charley Pride once again redefined the odds and demanded change in society through his art. By August, “All I Have To Offer You (Is Me)” reached the top of the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart. It was also Pride’s first song to reach the number one spot. But this wasn’t the only first in a long time worth noting.
Indeed, for the first time in 25 years, an African American artist had the No. 1 hit on the Billboard country chart. Additionally, Charley Pride officially became the third African American singer to ever have a No. 1 country hit. Then, in 1971, America got one of its favorite enduring classics. Pride released the album Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs. The first single off of it was “Kiss an Angel Good Morning.” This song became iconic and even synonymous with Charley Pride. It even transcended genres, landing a spot among the Top 40 in pop charts. In 11 years on YouTube, it has accumulated that many million views. Listen to this timeless treasure below.