Charley Pride Biography

18 March 1938, Sledge, Mississippi, USA. Charley Pride was born on a cotton farm, which, as a result of his success, he was later able to purchase. Pride says, ‘My dad named me Charl Frank Pride, but I was born in the country and the midwife wrote it down as Charley’. Harold Dorman, who wrote and recorded ‘Mountain of Love’, also hails from Sledge and wrote ‘Mississippi Cotton Picking Delta Town’ about the area, for Pride. As an adolescent, Pride followed what he heard on the radio with a cheap guitar, breaking with stereotypes by preferring country music to the blues. He played baseball professionally but he reverted to music when the Los Angeles Angels told him that he did not have a ‘major league arm’. In 1965 producer Jack Clement brought Pride to Chet Atkins at RCA Records. They considered not disclosing that he was black until the records were established, but Atkins decided that it was unfair to all concerned. ‘The Snakes Crawl at Night’ sold on its own merit and was followed by ‘Just Between You And Me’ which won a Grammy for the best country record by a male performer. On 7 January 1967 Ernest Tubb introduced him at the Grand Ole Opry, 42 years after the first black performer to appear there, DeFord Bailey in 1925. Prejudice ran high but the quality of Pride’s music, particularly the atmospheric live album from Panther Hall, meant that he was accepted by the redneck community. At one momentous concert, Willie Nelson kissed him on stage. Pride has had 29 number 1 records on the US country charts, including six consecutive chart-toppers between 1969 and 1971 - an extraordinary feat. His most significant recordings include ‘Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone?’, which he learnt and recorded in 15 minutes, and ‘Crystal Chandelier’, which he took from a Carl Belew record and is still the most requested song in UK country clubs. Strangely enough, ‘Crystal Chandelier’ was not a US hit, where his biggest single is ‘Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’’. Unfortunately, Pride fell into the same trap as Elvis Presley by recording songs that he published, so he did not always record the best material around.

Nevertheless, over the years, Charley Pride has encouraged such new talents as Kris Kristofferson, Ronnie Milsap, Dave And Sugar (who were his back-up singers) and Gary Stewart (who was his opening act). In 1975 Pride hosted a live double album from the Opry, In Person, which also featured Atkins, Milsap, Dolly Parton, Jerry Reed and Stewart. By the mid-80s, Pride was disappointed at the way RCA was promoting ‘New Country’ in preference to established performers so he left the label. He then recorded what is arguably his most interesting project, a tribute album to Brook Benton. Sadly, it was not released as he signed with 16th Avenue Records, who preferred new material. Records such as ‘I’m Gonna Love Her On The Radio’ and ‘Amy’s Eyes’ continued his brand of easy-listening country, but could not recapture his sales of the late 60s. Pride has had a long and contented family life and his son, Dion, plays in his band (‘We took the name from Dion And The Belmonts. We just liked it’). Seeing him perform in concert underlines what a magnificent voice he has. Sadly, he does not choose to test it in other, more demanding musical forms, although he argues that ‘the most powerful songs are the simple ones.’ In 1994, he received the Academy Of Country Music’s Pioneer Award. Six years later he was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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