CHARLEY PRIDE is one of my favourite singers, and one of the nicest guys in showbusiness.
I was delighted to interview him some years ago, when he was in concert in Oxford. He immediately struck me as a star with no truck for an ostentatious lifestyle.
Although well into his sixties at the time, he looked more like a man in his forties, with a huge stage presence and an overwhelming desire to entertain. On the night, the charismatic Pride made each song his own with his rich and marvellous baritone voice.
For over four decades Charley Pride has set high standards within country music circles, his name being synonymous with authentic country sounds which have always found a home with a hardcore of country music lovers. However, the adulation that Pride eventually found was a far cry from his humble beginnings.
Born in 1938 on a Delta cotton farm in Sledge, Mississippi, Charley Pride was one of 11 children. His parents were poor cotton workers and Pride toiled the farm by day to supplement his father’s income.
As a youngster, Pride also picked cotton which enabled him to save up money to buy his first guitar. Pride quickly took to the guitar, and by his early teens he was able to play by simply listening to country music on the radio.
Pride’s dream, however, was to become a professional baseball player, and in 1952 he was selected to join the Negro American Baseball League, and often sang and played guitar whilst travelling on the team bus. Hopes of making it to the top league, though, came to an abrupt end when he was enlisted into the US army for two years.
On his return to civilian life, Pride resumed his baseball career, but an arm injury sustained whilst in service restricted his movements, and led to rejection from the game he loved. One might say that this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as, when it became apparent that he was not destined for baseball greatness, Pride pursued a career in music.
With the guidance of country music greats, Red Foley and Red Sovine, Pride made a break-through in January 1966 with the song The Snakes Crawl at Night. However, it was the song All I Have to Offer You (is Me) which launched him to stardom.
This was the most significant song in his career and made chart history. It was Pride’s first number one country song, and it marked his first appearance in the national charts in America. Pride offered ample proof that he would soon be a major country star — around the same time, seven of his eight releases went to number one in the American country charts.
All I Have to Offer You (is Me) remains one of his most durable tunes, as his deep, strong voice ‘warns’ the woman he loves about what lies ahead in their relationship: no fancy clothes, crystal chandeliers or mansion on the hill — just all the love he has.
Over the years, Pride has featured in the Billboard single charts around 70 times and, with 36 number one hits under his belt, Pride has helped to prove how little race matters to the majority of country music fans. His easy going singing style and golden voice have endeared him to millions.
He was the first black musician to perform at the Grand Ole Opry with his hit songs Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone and Kiss an Angel Good Morning. He is also listed as being among the top 20 best selling country artists of all time, having sold over 70 million records. On RCA Records roster, he is second in sales only to the King himself, Elvis Presley.
His popularity has never faded, because he’s always been loyal to country music and his fans. He’s never been an entertainer to bow down to changes or trends, always possessing an ear for a good tune and remaining true to those country traditions which shaped his musical ambitions right from his childhood days.
Pride exudes charm and confidence, sending hearts aflutter with every song.
Pride met his wife Rosene whilst he was playing baseball in the southern states. They married in 1956 and have two sons Kraig and Dion, and a daughter Angela. They currently live in Dallas, Texas.
As for my favourite Charley Pride song, it has to be Crystal Chandeliers, which is like a national anthem to his millions of fans. This choice pleased the great man, as he knew the Irish took a liking to it from day one, and to this day he remains a firm favourite with all his Irish fans, young and old.