Charley Pride Tells His Story in PBS ‘American Masters-Charley Pride: I am Just Me’

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Country music’s first African-American famous person scored 29 No. 1 hits.

How did Charley Pride navigate the racial tensions that raged all through the South within the 1960s so skillfully that he not solely broke by means of as the primary outstanding African-American nation music artist, however did so in such a method that he celebrated his first #1 on Billboard's Country Albums chart — 1967’s The Country Way — inside two years of signing his first report deal?

How may the singer finest identified for such hits as "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin,’” "Mountain of Love” and “Kaw-Liga,” hold the ever-present smile on his face when introduced with hostile stay crowds, and through music trade occasions the place he was usually the one individual of coloration within the room?

These are a number of the areas of Pride's life which might be touched on within the PBS documentary, American Masters – Charley Pride: I'm Just Me, which makes its premiere tonight (Feb. 22). The program follows the singer's life from his beginnings as one in all 11 kids in a poor sharecropping household, the place he developed a love for baseball and nation music. Those two passions despatched him all through the nation in an try to make a dwelling at both commerce. It was a journey that stretches from the cotton fields of Sledge, Miss., to the recording studios of RCA Records in Nashville, the place he would turn out to be the biggest-selling artist on the label's roster since Elvis Presley.

The movie is filled with nice moments, a number of of them unshared till now,  and tries to reply most of the questions which have dogged the singer all through his profession. Why pursue a rustic music profession, when R&B artists have been discovering fame all through the nation throughout the identical timeframe? (His father managed the radio and was a rustic music fan.) How may he stand the seems to be that he was certain to get, simply by strolling into many buildings in Nashville? (He and his household loved dwelling in Helena, Mont., throughout that point, which as late as 2010 had African-Americans making up solely zero.four% of town's inhabitants.)

Pride tells Billboard, "When I used to be first approached about this documentary, I used to be very hesitant, however I believe it turned out fairly darn good. I don’t usually consider myself as being a legend, and it makes me very appreciative for the assist I’ve obtained from my friends and so many others through the years.”

The first public viewing of the movie was held within the Nashville suburb of Franklin, Tennessee, on the Franklin Theatre on February eighth. A Q&A was held instantly following the screening, hosted by the documentary's director, Barbara Hall. Among these readily available to mirror on the impression Pride had on Nashville and the music trade as a complete have been Pride's longtime metal guitar participant Lloyd Green; the Curatorial Director for the National Museum of African American Music, Dr. Dina Bennett; and Nashville-based music historian Craig Havighurst.

Ruminating upon Pride's first look contained in the Nashville workplaces of these throughout the nation music trade in 1963, a 12 months the place town was marked by sit-ins and a number of accounts of racial violence, Green, then finest often known as a member of Chet Atkins' session band The A-Team, remarked, "When we first went into the studio [with Pride], we didn't know what to anticipate. I had heard his voice previous to these classes, so I knew he was a great singer, and all we wanted have been some attention-grabbing songs. When Charley got here into the room… I used to be amazed at his self-composure, and the truth that he was such a extremely good singer."

Green continued, "I'm from Mobile, Alabama, and also you've acquired to think about the period of [the 1960s]. Charley was so disarming, having the ability to have an amazing humorousness concerning the coloration barrier at the moment. I believe that's one of many main factors in Charley's favor, that he by no means let folks get to him through the use of the colour factor towards him. He was considerate about these issues, however he by no means had any anger or animosity. We have been within the studio as soon as when Faron Young burst in, and simply stood there evident up at Charley along with his fingers on his hips. No one would say a phrase, so… he grabbed Charley and kissed him on the lips, saying, ‘I like you, Charley Pride.’ It was an epiphanous second as a result of as soon as he did that, Nashville accepted Charley. Faron Young may trigger numerous issues again then, and generally did, so as soon as he accepted Charley everybody else type of needed to, too."

Bennett added, "Charley was an individual who was surrounded by his setting, so far as being from a rural metropolis in Mississippi… in addition to having a father who would by no means let anybody contact the radio, so it was at all times turned to [country music]. He was impacted by these environment, so it is sensible that he would take to singing nation music."

So whereas the documentary makes a long-deserved case for Pride's title to be close to the highest of any checklist of all time greats in nation music, the specter of race nonetheless hangs heavy over his profession on the finish of the day, irrespective of how usually he himself labored as a delicate bridge towards integration throughout the minds of lots of his listeners. One want solely take a look at the checklist of expertise making appearances throughout the documentary, the place two of the commenters – Darius Rucker and newcomer Jimmie Allen – account for a big proportion of the airplay that artists of coloration obtain on nation radio immediately. Among the opposite artists collaborating within the documentary are Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, Tanya Tucker, Whoopi Goldberg and Marty Stuart.

For all of Rucker’s success, in addition to Allen and Kane Brown’s burgeoning careers, no individual of coloration has come near matching Pride’s outstanding string of 29 No. 1s on Billboard’s Country chart. "After Charley grew to become a serious nation artist, I recorded with numerous African American singers who needed to be nation artists. Some of them have been superb – most likely nearly as good as Charley – however I don't know if it was the charisma, or the magic, however nobody has been capable of break that barrier in nation music to the diploma that Charley did. It looks like a singular occasion, and that's unhappy to me as a musician.”

As Pride commented to Billboard about nation music’s efforts to be extra inclusionary, “Surely numerous issues are altering, nevertheless it’s not altering quick [enough]. We’ve acquired a protracted method to go.”