During the Great Depression, a man named Charley Pride was born in Mississippi as one of 11 children to his sharecropping parents. The year he was born, The Dust Bowl would ravage 300 million American acres, forcing hundreds of thousands of migrants to California in search of income.
As a boy, Pride was introduced to country music by his father and later learned guitar. Though he loved music, he dreamed of playing professional baseball, which he successfully did for much of his 20s in both Negro and minor leagues. After being cut by the Cincinnati Reds farm team in Missoula, Montana, Pride worked in construction and a metal factory for many years. He also played semi-pro ball on the side and made double his salary by singing to the crowd before games. Years later he cut a demo at the famous Sun Studio in Memphis, the same recording studio that put Elvis on the map. Sometime later, country superstar Chet Atkins heard the demo and signed him to a contract. With over 30 number one hits, he would become the second most successful RCA musician in history (after Elvis).
But fame quickly forced him to confront his outsider status. This is how he confronted it, according to Wikipedia. “In the late summer of 1966, on the strength of his early releases, Pride was booked for his first large show, in Detroit’s Olympia Stadium. Since no biographical information had been included with his songs, few of the 10,000 country fans who came to the show knew Pride was black, and only discovered the fact when he walked onto the stage, at which point the applause trickled off to silence. “I knew I’d have to get it over with sooner or later,” Pride later remembered. “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.’ ”
I love that quote as much as I love Pride’s music and character. This is my favorite song of his.