Pro baseball and picking cotton: Charley Pride’s life before country music

Entertainment

More than 55 years ago there were no black artists in country music, but Pride's talent was undeniable.

Charley Pride is country music royalty. 

The three-time Grammy winner has had more than 30 No. 1 hits. But before Pride’s music career took off, his brief baseball career did. 

Pride, 85, was born in Mississippi to poor sharecroppers. To him, baseball was an escape. 

“I saw Jackie Robinson play and I said, ‘Here’s my way out of the cotton fields,'” Pride says.

Pride was talented enough to play in the Negro Leagues but cracked his elbow before he had a chance to play in the majors. 

He was a fierce competitor and recalls one day trying to out-pick his father in the fields. The moment turned into a life lesson. 

Pride’s father told him, “There’s an art to everything.” 

“‘You were getting everything in sight and I was getting everything in sight and out of sight,'” Pride recalls his father telling him. “I never forgot that, see. ‘There is an art to everything.’ Fourth-grade education but he was smart.”

His father also instilled a love for music into Pride. 

The entire family would gather around the Philco radio for Saturday shows. Pride’s father would control all the knobs, always landing on the Grand Ole Opry, because his father loved country music. 

“All the things we listened to is what he listened to,” Pride says. 

More than 55 years ago, there were no black country music artists. The promoters didn’t want to book him, but Pride’s talent was undeniable. 

Pride was asked to play a show in Chicago but was told his performance would not be advertised. Eighty people showed up. 

The next day, “Charley Pride” was on the marquee. 

“OK, we had 800,” Pride says, laughing. 

To this day he’d rather you see beyond his color and hear his craft.

Pride would ultimately sign to RCA records. He sold so many records that he was only outdone by Elvis Presley. He says it helped that the big artists of the time backed him. 

“He tells stories. These are real stories set to music,” says Kevin Bailey, Pride’s manager and bass guitarist. 

At 85, Pride still performs during 45 shows a year and is releasing an album in 2020. 

Charley Pride in the 1960s / Charley Pride

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