×

Listen: Charley Pride on PBS Doc, Baseball and Becoming Country Music’s Biggest African-American Star

Welcome to “TV Take,” Variety’s television podcast. In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV, Daniel Holloway, talks with Charley Pride, the subject of the new “American Masters” documentary, “Charley Pride: I Am Just Me,” which premieres Feb. 22 on PBS.

Pride was one of country music’s biggest stars in the ’60s and ’70s, and is the genre’s most famous African-American performer. In a trailblazing move, Pride released his first record “The Snakes Crawl at Night” through RCA in 1966, and went on to become the record company’s best-selling artist since Elvis Presley.

The documentary explores the legendary artist’s career, which kicked off “smack dab” in the middle of the civil rights movement. However, Pride says that the only resistance he ever faced during his career was from promoters and to this day, he has never received a cat-call during a performance because of his race.

“Once they heard me, they couldn’t care whether I was pink or green,” Pride says. “That’s the way it’s been for these 50-some years.”

Pride recalls the meeting when fellow country singer and producer Chet Atkins decided to take a chance on the budding musician and play his recordings for the RCA “big wigs in Monterrey.”

“Chet said I was colored, and I think he showed a picture too, and they all looked at each other and unanimously they said, ‘Well we’re still gonna release it, but we ain’t gonna say nothing about no color,'” Pride says. “They decided to let the record speak for itself.”

Born in Sledge, Miss., Pride grew up with seven brothers, three sister, and two passions in life: music and baseball. As a young boy, Pride listened to whatever music his father could get over the family radio. He says he was influenced by any and all music he heard as his father “twisted the knobs any which way.”

The young Pride dreamed of breaking records out on the baseball field and hitting more home runs than Babe Ruth. However, after coming up through the “negro leagues” with iconic players like Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, and trying out for multiple teams across the country, Pride’s career in baseball never quite reached the heights of his ambition. He attributes this partly to the quota which was in place at the time which limited each team to only two black players, and partly due to the fact he was just coming out of the army with a wife and kid, and managers weren’t willing to negotiate with teams on his behalf.

Pride recalls one of the most significant nights of his career as his performance after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis. He was on tour at the time, and his touring partner pulled out of the gig because of the news, but after phone calls with his wife and his manager, Pride decided to go ahead and perform.

“I took a cab to the show, and the driver said, ‘Hey they got him, that Martin Luther King, and I’ve got another one that I’m driving to a show right now,’ so I got things like that,” Pride recalls. “But when I got on stage I said nothing about what happened. I did my show, probably one of the finest shows I’ve ever done, and I got a standing ovation.”

When asked if he is surprised by the lack of breakthrough African-American singers in the country genre, Pride replies, “No, because I’m unique.”

Later in the show, critics Daniel D’Addario and Caroline Framke discuss ABC’s “Whiskey Cavalier,” and FX’s “Better Things.” Finally, reporter Joe Otterson helps break down the cloud of news surrounding the arrest of “Empire” star Jussie Smollett, who is being accused by Chicago PD of falsely reporting a hate crime.

More Music

  • Ellis Marsalis

    Jazz Pianist Ellis Marsalis Jr. Dies of Coronavirus Complications at 85

    Ellis Marsalis Jr., a jazz pianist from New Orleans, died Wednesday night from complications due to coronavirus, his son, Branford Marsalis, confirmed in a statement to Variety. He was 85. In addition to having his own prominent music career, Marsalis helped pave the way for four of his sons, Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason, to [...]

  • The Voice Adam Levine

    As Phish Drops New Album, Maroon 5's Adam Levine Covers Fan Favorite 'Divided Sky'

    Like many Americans currently social isolating, Adam Levine has ample free time on his hands. On Tuesday, the Maroon 5 frontman posted a video of himself on Instagram Live playing a portion of Phish fan favorite “Divided Sky.” The nearly 12-minute long jam was originally a track off the band’s first full-length album, “Junta.” Watch [...]

  • Adam Schlesinger

    Tom Hanks, Rachel Bloom, Stephen Colbert, Stephen King Pay Tribute to Adam Schlesinger

    Whether it was the snarky but sincere pop of Fountains of Wayne and Ivy, the ‘60s retro of Tom Hanks’ “That Thing You Do!” or the Broadway fare of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” Adam Schlesinger’s music reached far beyond his public profile. The master songwriter passed away Wednesday morning at the age of 52 from complications related [...]

  • Aline Brosh Mckenna Adam Schlesinger

    'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' Co-Creator Aline Brosh McKenna Pays Touching Tribute to Adam Schlesinger

    “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna paid a touching tribute to Adam Schlesinger on Twitter after the Emmy-winning songwriter and singer died Wednesday from coronavirus complications. Brosh McKenna took to the social media platform to fondly recall a moment from the writer’s room, “One day, when Adam, Rachel (Bloom) and Jack (Dolgen) were working, we [...]

  • Dolly Parton at the Grand Ole

    Film News Roundup: Dolly Parton Donates $1 Million for Research on Coronavirus Cure

    In today’s film news roundup, Dolly Parton makes a donation for coronavirus cure, Howie Mandel and Ashlee Simpson join the voice cast of “Pierre The Pigeon-Hawk” and American Documentary launches an artists emergency fund. RESEARCH DONATION Dolly Parton has donated $1 million to Nashville’s Vanderbilt Hospital to help aid research to find a cure for [...]

  • Amy Adams Jennifer Garner

    Jennifer Garner, Amy Adams on 'Save With Stories,' Helping Children During Coronavirus Quarantine

    Jennifer Garner and Amy Adams are opening their contact lists for their new endeavor to help children during the coronavirus pandemic. Not long after the U.S. came to a screeching halt because of COVID-19, the two superstars launched “SaveWithStories,” an Instagram account that features celebrities and other notable figures reading children’s books. The line-up already [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content