Charley Pride was a rare African American performer to break through to real success in country music in the late '60s and '70s, scoring country and crossover hits and Grammy Awards with his silky baritone and a flair for romantic songs.
One of 11 children, Pride’s parents were tenant farmers. He became a fan of country music radio and bought his first guitar at Sears, Roebuck and Co. at age 14. He already had two big dreams: to sing country music and play professional baseball.
In the late 1950s, Pride pitched baseball in the Negro American League, and played guitar and sang on the team bus between cities. After a two-year stint in the military, singer Red Sorvine caught him performing in Helena, Mont., and suggested Pride come to Nashville. He instead took a playing position on the farm team of the New York Mets.
He finally got to Nashville in 1964 and auditioned for RCA producer Chet Atkins. Pride was signed to the label and in 1966 released the singles “Snakes Crawl at Night,” “Before I Met You” and the Grammy-winning “Just Between You and Me” (also a top-10 country hit). He was invited to appear at the Grand Ole Opry the following year.
In 1970, he sang “All His Children,” the theme song for the film “Sometimes a Great Notion,” directed by Paul Newman. Many more hits followed, peaking in 1971 with the million-selling “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” which topped the country chart for five weeks and crossed over to become a top-40 pop hit.
In 1980, he released an album of Hank Williams songs, “There's a Little Bit of Hank in Me,” a tribute to one of his main influences. By 1984, Pride had scored 36 No. 1 hits on the Billboard country singles chart. In 1993, he was the first African American to be asked to join the Opry as a member.
His autobiography, “Pride: The Charley Pride Story,” was published in 1994. He received a star on the Walk of Fame in 1999.