One of the most honored entertainers in all of country music, Charley Pride has accepted one award after another in cool stride. However, Pride was overwhelmed and visibly moved to tears when he learned in June that he and his late friend Faron Young were to become the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Brenda Lee, a 1997 inductee, made the announcement during a ceremony at the Hall of Fame in Nashville.
“I haven’t cried like that since my mother died,” soft-spoken Pride says. “I’m usually pretty calm.”
During a recent phone interview, after the news had sunk in for three months, Pride was handling his latest and biggest career achievement with calm grace. But he’s not sure he’ll remain so composed on the night of his induction.
“Membership into the Country Music Hall of Fame is probably the greatest accomplishment of my life,” the 62-year-old country legend says, after a moment of reflection. “I can’t think of anything bigger. I’ve had a lot of experience, a lot of awards; many things have happened on the road to this point. Let’s face it, what else could be any more rewarding?
“I try not to think of the magnitude of being in the Hall of Fame with Hank Williams and everyone else. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it — I’m ecstatic — I just like to take it as calmly as I can and be thankful. I’ve done that throughout my career, no matter what award is being bestowed on me. I’m looking forward to the induction, but I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to be able to get through it.”
Pride and Young will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on Wednesday, Oct. 4, during The 34th Annual CMA Awards, to be telecast by CBS from the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville. Their elections bring membership to 74.
Pride joins country.com — the online home of the Country Music Hall of Fame — at 7 p.m. ET Monday (Oct. 2) for a 30-minute chat. Robyn Young, Faron’s 43-year-old son, follows at 7:30 p.m., to discuss his father’s career and posthumous induction. (Read the transcriptions)
Pride, who lives in Dallas, is set to perform a medley of hits such as “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” and “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’” during the Country Music Association awards program, marking his first appearance on the show in 20 years. In 1971, the CMA named Pride Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year. The following year he became the first artist to win back-to-back Male Vocalist trophies.
Young’s greatest success predated gala award shows; the CMA handed out its first honors in 1967. Born Feb. 25, 1932, in Shreveport, La., Young made some of the rowdiest, most energetic country records of the 1950s and early ’60s, and he sold a ton of them. In 1955 he hit No.1 for the first time singing the exuberant “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young.” Nicknamed the Young Sheriff after playing a lawman in a Western movie, he racked up a succession of hits including “If You Ain’t Lovin’ (You Ain’t Livin’),” “I’ve Got Five Dollars and It’s Saturday Night,” “Wine Me Up” and the first hit recording of “Sweet Dreams.”
In 1961 Young recorded Willie Nelson’s “Hello Walls.” The song gave Nelson, at the time a struggling songwriter, one of his first big breaks in the business, and it became a major smash for Young, spending nine weeks at No. 1 on the country charts and crossing over to the pop Top 20. Young continued to have hits for another decade, scoring his last No. 1 in 1972 with “It’s Four in the Morning.”
Young became a major investor in Music Row real estate and owned and published the country music fanzine Music City News. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1996 at age 64, ailing and reportedly feeling that his contributions to country were not appreciated.
“Dad never won a lot of big awards,” Robyn Young says. “I know he would have loved going into the Hall of Fame. He would have enjoyed the recognition. I wish he was here to see it.”
In some ways his father’s induction symbolizes a final resting-place for the legend. “When my father died, he wanted his ashes scattered on Old Hickory Lake, near Nashville,” Robyn says. “That meant that there wasn’t really a gravesite where I could go visit him. I’ve thought about that for a while, and I decided that the best headstone he could ever have would be a bronze plaque in the Country Music Hall of Fame.”
Pride is proud to enter the Hall of Fame with Young. Pride broke country music’s color barrier and is the only country superstar who is black. When he came to Nashville in the mid ’60s, he was warned that Young, at the time a country kingpin, might not react well to Pride’s skin color. The men’s first meeting proved a pleasant one, however.
“My first manager [Jack D. Johnson] named some people I would probably have to ‘get past,’ you might say, in acceptance,” Pride says. “Faron was one of the ones that was mentioned. I said, ‘OK, when I get to Nashville, I’m going to look him up. I might as well get past him right away.’
“When we got to Nashville, this particular night, we looked for Faron –it took me all night, and we finally found him. He was sitting, and his back was to us, and he had a bandana around his head, talking into a microphone of a tape recorder.
“My manager came in and said, ‘Faron, I’d like you to meet Charley Pride.’ He just kind of flinched. I’m thinking, he’s getting ready to say what Jack said he might say. He just turned and said, ‘Charley Pride, you sing a fine song.’ I said, ‘Well, Faron, you sing a fine song, too.’ That was our meeting, the first time I met Faron Young.
“As we talked that particular night, I don’t know where the guitar came from, but we started singing songs. He’d sing one, then I would sing one. Finally, he just said, ‘Well, I’ll be durned. Here I am singing with a jig and I don’t mind it at all. Who would’ve thought it?’ I said, ‘I thought you were going to say something worse than that. And if you had, I was going to say, you little @#$@ banty rooster.’ He said, ‘You were going to do that?’ I said, ‘Yes, ’cause I wanted to get it out of the way.’”
Young was one of the first artists to take Pride on tour, and his support helped country fans and country artists in that racially charged time to accept Pride.
“I can’t think of a better person that I would rather go in the Hall of Fame with,” Pride says. “We were close and I considered him one of my most staunch supporters.”
Pride and his wife, Rozene, took Young’s death hard.
“I had no idea he was in that state of mind,” Pride says. “I hadn’t seen him in a long time. Sometimes I feel like if I could have gotten to him and talked to him more, it might have made a difference. That goes through your mind when something like this happens.”
Pride was born in rural Sledge, Miss., in 1938, one of 11 children. His father sharecropped a 40-acre farm, and Pride went to work in the fields when he was age 5, picking cotton in the North Mississippi lowlands. His family tuned into the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights, and Pride’s early musical favorites were artists such as Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams. In his early teens, Pride saved up $10 from cotton-picking to buy a mail order guitar from Sears, Roebuck and Co. and he began learning country songs he heard on the radio.
By the time he reached 17, he excelled at playing guitar and singing, but more so at baseball. He pitched and played outfield with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League in the mid ’50s. There he met and married Rozene. Following two years of military service, he was hired to play semi-pro ball in the Pioneer League with a team in Helena, Mont. By 1961, Pride was called up by the California Angels for training camp, but he didn’t make the team and soon headed back to Helena and began performing in clubs.
Country stars Red Sovine and Red Foley discovered Pride in 1963 when they were passing through Montana. They encouraged him to go to Nashville. There he met songwriter Jack Clement, who cut some demos on Pride and got them to RCA executive Chet Atkins. RCA signed Pride in 1965 and Atkins billed him at first as “Country Charley Pride.” His first single, “The Snakes Crawl at Night,” was issued to radio stations without a publicity photo to avoid hassles over Pride’s race.
“Just Between You and Me” reached the Billboard Top 10 at the end of 1966. His albums began to go gold in 1970, at a time when few country artists could boast such an achievement. During his 20-year tenure with RCA, he scored 29 No. 1 records on the Billboard country singles chart, including the million-selling “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’.”
Feeling shunted aside for younger artists at RCA, Pride left the label in the mid ’80s for 16th Avenue Records, and, later, Honest Entertainment. He registered his last charted single, “Amy’s Eyes,” in early 1990, but shrewd investments in music publishing, banking and a talent agency have paid dividends. Janie Fricke, Dave & Sugar and Neal McCoy all went on to successful country music careers after an early boost from Pride and his talent agency.
Though about to undergo country music’s ultimate enshrinement, Pride has no plans to retire. He continues to play 50 or more concert dates a year, including some overseas. He is putting the finishing touches on a Jim Reeves tribute album and has several other albums planned including a gospel project, a Christmas collection, a disc of Marty Robbins covers and an album of his own new material. At press time, no outlet had been determined for release of any of the projects.
Hall of Fame membership is only one of many honors that have piled up for Pride over the past four decades. His Web site, charleypride.com, lists pages and pages of accolades, everything from Grammy trophies and the Academy of Country Music’s prestigious Pioneer Award to a Dallas Father of the Year citation and the naming of a Mississippi highway in his honor. Cashbox named Pride Country Artist of the Decade for the 1970s, and in 1993 he became the first black member of the Grand Ole Opry since DeFord Bailey, a member of the cast until 1941.
If Pride had his way, though, the only thing people would find remarkable about his career as a country star would be his personal magnetism and his rich country voice, a resonant and versatile instrument that moves easily from slow love songs and hymns to yodels and honky-tonk weepers. Pride has always considered racial prejudice — what he refers to as “the skin hang-up” — to be a problem for others, but not for him.
In June, when asked about the significance of being the first black artist to be elected to the Hall of Fame, Pride replied: “I’m glad I’m in the Hall of Fame. I’m glad I’m right next to the people I love in there — Ernest Tubb, Marty Robbins — I don’t care if they were pink.”