Charley Frank Pride was born on March 18, 1934 to Fowler McArthur “Mack” Pride and Tessie B. Stewart Pride in Sledge, Mississippi. His family survived by being sharecropping cotton farmers. Charley told of wanting to have a career in baseball and initially set out to do so. He left home at sixteen to pursue a baseball career and was a pitcher in the old Negro Leagues following his older brother Mack, Jr.
Charley played for at least two teams, the Memphis Red Sox and the Birmingham Black Barons. He also signed for a tryout with the Yankees in Major League Baseball and played for their affiliate, the Boise Yankees in the Pioneer League in 1953. In addition, he spent some time with two other MLB minor league teams, the Fond Du Lac Panthers of the Wisconsin State League in 1953 and the Nogales Yaquis in the Arizona-Mexico League in 1955. He then married and did a two year hitch in the United States Army before returning for part of another season with the Missoula Timberjacks, again in the Pioneer League, in 1960. He worked in industry and briefly played for the company baseball team. Charley later took up other sports but never lost his love for baseball. He was selected by the Texas Rangers in a special commemorative draft by Major League Baseball teams of former Negro League players that was held in the spring of 2008. His brother Mack was drafted by the Colorado Rockies.
In a 1994 newspaper interview, Charley remembered the highly segregated south of his youth and credited his mother Tessie with helping him avoid bitterness from those experiences. Almost forty years into his musical career by that time, Pride confided about becoming somewhat tired of being known for his achievements through the lens of being African-American. Indeed, his achievements were the result of his great talent and perseverance.
In addition to his long time love of baseball, he grew up with a love of music that expanded into a career that produced 30 number one hits, along with a dozen gold albums. His biographies note that he got his first Sears Roebuck guitar when he was fourteen with money he had earned picking cotton and used this mail order guitar to learn to play. His family was also deeply involved in the local Baptist church where Charley was well exposed to Gospel music. He later recorded at least two Gospel albums that were made up of arrangements of older hymns as well as new songs. Several of his Gospel and inspirational themed songs were released as singles and Charley was said to be always open to performing for Protestant and Catholic charities.
Record executives and artists began to notice Charley while he was still living in Montana and introduced him to producers. Charley was signed by Chet Atkins in 1965 to a recording contract with RCA Records and the label released a single soon afterward. His third single “Just Between You and Me” did reach the Top 10 in 1966, as did all the singles he released over the next two years. He won his first Grammy Award for Best Song of the Year shortly afterwords. In 1969, he had his first number one hit, “All I Have to Offer You” followed by over two dozen more hit singles over the next twenty years. Charley had twenty-nine number one hits, including such memorable songs as “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” (1970), “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’” (1971), and “All I Have to Offer You Is Me” (1969). He released his first LP album in 1966 and it, along with a dozen more, reached number one on the album chart.
While carrying on his successful performing career, he made Texas his home as he branched out into other businesses including real estate. He started a music booking and management company and introduced other new artists into the country music world. He also was part owner in a music publishing company.
Charley was sought for television appearances on variety shows and the Grand Ole Opry. Charley’s many honors include being named Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year in 1971. He was twice named Male Vocalist of the Year in 1971 and 1972. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in the year 2000. Charley received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020 at the Country Music Association Awards Program. Not long after this program, Charley passed away in December, 2020 at the age of 86. He was called a trail blazer, but by any standard, he was a legend in country music. He is interred in Dallas, Texas.
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