In the early 1970s, country music legend Charley Pride performed to a full house at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. The audience was all white and the band members were all white. I was there.
Former Governor Jimmie Davis, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame himself, presented him with a key to the state of Louisiana and a document expressing our state’s appreciation for it.
Becoming a pioneering country music superstar was an unlikely fate for Pride, given his humble beginnings as the son of a tenant farmer in Sledge, Mississippi.
His unique journey to the top of the music charts included a detour to the world of the Negro League, Minor League, and semi-pro baseball.
But in the end, with daring, perseverance and undeniable musical talent, he managed to turn a casual dating service with Nashville insiders into an incredible legacy of hit singles and tens of millions of record sales.
Growing up, Charley was exposed primarily to blues, gospel, and country music. His father inadvertently encouraged Charley’s love of country music by turning the family’s battery-powered Philco radio into the Nashville WSM in order to pick up the Grand Ole Opry broadcasts.
At 14, Charley bought his first guitar – a Silverstone from a Sears Roebuck – and learned to play it on his own by listening to the songs he heard on that radio.
I would like to add that tens of millions of people have learned to play guitar on this Silvertone. My first guitar was a Martin D-28.
Pickers who read this column will know that this was a big step forward.
In late 1956, Charley enlisted in the United States Army and was ordered to report to Fort Chaffee, Ar., For basic training. During the Christmas break from basic training, I married his wife, Rozene, whom he met earlier in the year while playing baseball in Memphis.
Charley returned to Montana and continued to play baseball for his semi-pro team, but also began to make a name for himself as a local artist singing the national anthem at baseball games and performing. in honky tonks, churches and nightclubs in Helena, Anaconda and Great Falls Areas.
In 1961, Charley was invited to try out the Los Angeles Angels in spring training with the help of a local disc jockey, Charley was introduced to country singers Red Sovine and Red Farley and invited to perform “Lovesick Blues “and” Heartaches by the Number “during one of their shows.
This brief initial encounter with Red Sovine will prove to be crucial in laying the foundations for Charley’s future musical career.
Many other honors from Pride clearly underscore its impact on American music. In 1994, he was honored by the Academy of Country Music with its prestigious Pioneer Award. In 2000, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. And in 2017, the Recording Academy honored Charley with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Pride performed the national anthem in Game 6 of the 1980 World Series. He also performed the national anthem in Super Bowl VIII, and again in Game 5 of the 2010 World Series
I could say publicly that Charley Pride had very few equals.