Born March 18th, 1934, singer Charley Pride, left his birthplace of Sledge, Mississippi, at age 16 and later became one of the most successful country artists of all time. But that wasn’t exactly what he had first planned. The son of a sharecropper, Pride first left his family’s 40-acre cotton farm 50 miles south of Memphis to play professional baseball in the Negro American League. Pride would go on to work at a smelter in Montana, playing ball and also singing in local clubs at night. He signed his first management deal in 1964, with longtime manager Jack D. Johnson, and in August 1965 had his first Nashville recording session. A month later, he signed with RCA, which released his debut single, “The Snakes Crawl at Night.” The single, however, failed to chart.
Pride had better luck with his sophomore LP The Pride of Country Music, which featuring the first two of what would be 13 consecutive Top Ten singles – six of which topped the chart. In January 1967 he became the first African-American solo singer to appear on the Grand Ole Opry, and on April 29th of that year, he made his first-ever national TV appearance on bandleader Lawrence Welk’s popular ABC music series, which aired on Saturday nights.
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A lifelong disciple of Hank Williams, Pride’s debut on The Lawrence Welk Show presented his vibrant take on Williams’ 1949 hit “Lovesick Blues,” with accompaniment by steel guitarist Lloyd Green. The performance was enough to earn him a return visit the following April, with Welk noting that Pride “impressed all of us with his talent and his personality.” Backed on steel this time by Gene O’Neal, Pride introduced the other musicians before his two-song set, which spotlighted Hank Williams again (“Kaw-Liga”) in the first segment. During a chat with Welk, Pride talked about his three young children at home before singing Lead Belly’s oft-covered folk tune “Cotton Fields,” a song which he said “reminds me of what I don’t ever go back to doing because it hurt my fingers and my back and my knees.”
Charley Pride went on to become CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1971, has to date won four Grammys and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000. He has been married to wife Rozene Pride since 1956.
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