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Charley Pride: I’m Just Me

American Masters – Charley Pride: I’m Just Me traces the improbable journey of Charley Pride, from his humble beginnings as a sharecropper’s son on a cotton farm in segregated Sledge, Mississippi to his career as a Negro American League baseball player and his meteoric rise as a trailblazing country music superstar. The new documentary reveals how Pride’s love for music led him from the Delta to a larger, grander world. In the 1940s, radio transcended racial barriers, making it possible for Pride to grow up listening to and imitating Grand Ole Opry stars like Ernest Tubb and Roy Acuff. The singer arrived in Nashville in 1963 while the city roiled with sit-ins and racial violence. But with boldness, perseverance and undeniable musical talent, he managed to parlay a series of fortuitous encounters with music industry insiders into a legacy of hit singles, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Narrated by Grammy-nominated country singer Tanya Tucker, the film features original interviews with country music royalty, including Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker and Marty Stuart, as well as on-camera conversations between Pride and special guests, including Rozene Pride (his wife of 61 years), Willie Nelson and fellow musicians.

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♪♪ -I bought me a guitar from Sears Roebuck when I was about 14 years old.

I just I just loved to emulate all the singers, not realizing I was preparing myself for something like this.

♪ When people say that life is rough ♪ ♪ I wonder, compared to what?

-I don't know what it would be like being Charley Pride, I know it's hard enough me being Dolly Parton.

-♪ I'm just me -He said, 'I want to do country music,' and he didn't think anything was strange about it.

-Just being able to say, 'I'm accepted just like everybody else and people like me for who I am,' that's a very powerful statement in of itself.

-He's one of the first people to go, 'Here's my talent, let's celebrate that.

Oh, by the way, I'm a black man.'

-♪ Kiss an angel good morning -No person of color had ever done what he was doing.

-Charley Pride being the only one and thinking about that and what the must have meant, um, sort of knocked me out.

-♪ I just try to be ♪ Exactly what you see ♪ Today and every day ♪ I'm just me ♪♪ -Charley Pride's prolific career in country music is brimming with chart-topping hits and millions of album sales.

What isn't noticed on the album covers is his uncharted pathway to success -- breaking through country music's color barrier.

-I knew he grew up as a country boy, and I knew that we talked a lot about -- you know, about our upbringing, about how poor we were, fetching water and growing our own food and having to raise the food.

-Deep in the heart of the South, Charley Pride was one of the 11 children born into a rural home of poor cotton pickers in Sledge, Mississippi, in 1934.

-Well, your hometown of Abbott is bigger than my hometown of Sledge. -Yeah.

-We were only 500 population. Yours was bigger than that.

-Maybe now, but it wasn't back then.

There was like 300 and something back then, yeah.

-Really? Oh, okay.

-And the population never changes, you know, 'cause every time baby is born, a man leaves town.

[ Laughs ] -Charley's mother Tessie was gentle and supportive of her son's interests and ambitions, while his father Mack was often strict and harsh.

You see, cotton can open under the leaves and outside the leaves, too.

I'm picking beside my dad, and he's got two rows and I got two rows, but I'm keeping right up with him, you see, and this time I'm gonna beat him when we go to the scales.

So when we get to the end of the rows, they weigh mine, took mine off, put my dad's up there... [Claps] ...about 20, 30 pound different.

I said, 'Can't be.'

I look back, my rows was just as clean as his.

He said, 'Now, son, let me tell you something.'

He said, 'There's an art to everything.'

I never forgot that.

-They put young people in those fields, 11 and 12 and 13 years old.

You had to carry the sack, and you drag it along, and it got heavier as the day went along, and, yes, there's burrs in cotton, and it's baking sun, and there is no relief.

-We always would sharecrop.

You know, sharecropping wasn't too hot.

Like, if you own the land, we made 10 bales.

You automatically got your five bales and we got ours, but you in a continuous cycle of debt all the time, so you never got out of debt.

♪♪ My dad, he bought a Philco radio, and that's what we listened to before we go out in the fields.

Nobody handled the knobs on that radio but my dad.

-The development of high-wattage radio stations like WSM were incredibly influential on rural communities during the 1940s. These new airwaves would fuel the imaginations of isolated communities.

-Radio was theater of the mind.

I'm sure, as a kid, he was sitting there with his eyes closed going, 'I be this, I can be that.'

-♪ Please, baby, please -His daddy did not like rhythm and blues.

He liked Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff.

He listened to the 'Grand Ole Opry.'

That had a great bearing on Charley.

The 'Grand Ole Opry' started as a radio show the WSM barn dance in 1925, and just very quickly, it became kind of of the place to be and perform if you were anybody in this new genre of music.

DeFord Bailey was a harmonica player, grew up in Nashville, and was called the Harmonica Wizard.

-They recognized that DeFord Bailey gave the 'Opry' this really important flavor.

His way of playing reminded the audience of stuff that was very much part of their lives especially the Pan-American Blues, where he made the harmonica sound like a train, speeding up and rushing past and blowing the whistle.

♪♪ -Also born into a family of sharecroppers, the legendary Jackie Robinson would break the baseball color barrier in 1947 by becoming the first African-American player in the major leagues.

[ Cheering ] -When Jackie Robinson went to the major leagues, I was picking cotton beside my dad and I said to myself, I said, 'Here's my way out of the cotton field.'

-There would not be ample resources for a young man to pursue a baseball career in Charley Pride's situation in Sledge, Mississippi, at that time.

Even with Jackie Robinson as a constellation to point to.

-If you didn't have the necessary equipment, you made it up.

You rolled that sock, and you put that aluminum foil into that sock, and you rolled it up, and you took your mama's broomstick or what whatever was necessary.

The desire to compete was just as strong.

-With the support of his mother, Tessie, 18-year-old Pride headed to Memphis in search of a baseball career and made his debut in the Iowa State League in 1952.

-Through barnstorming and other opportunities, people were being introduced to this professional brand of black baseball, and so I think it absolutely fuels some dreams for some young people aspiring to play.

-Black men have been playing baseball around this country forever.

To play the majors was always going to be a challenge.

That Jackie Robinson path was rough.

-Somehow Charley was born with baseball inside him.

He probably didn't know it when he was a kid, but as soon as it had a chance to come out, it was in there and it came out.

-There were a lot more obstacles in front of Mr. Pride's dream, then there might have been in mine or somebody from my generation, so I didn't see a lot of Rolls-Royce's in that part of the country, so you had to want to get there, and you had to go for it.

-Segregation is segregation, and the south was particularly brutal, and I just feel like, when you have a gift, and people help you nurture that gift so that it can rise above, because you didn't find a lot of Charley Prides.

-Charley quickly moved up to pitcher-outfielder for the Memphis Red Sox in the Negro American League.

There, he pitched well enough to get signed by the Yankees' Class C team in Boise, Idaho.

-The baseball field was almost their sanctuary.

Their challenges came traveling highways and byways of our country, not knowing where they can stop to get a meal, not knowing where they could use the restroom.

Those were the hardships.

I think, for Charley, having played in the Negro Leagues perhaps toughened him.

-Many people argued that the Negro Leagues were actually full of more talent than Major League Baseball.

-What I'd like to do is break all them records and set new ones.

When they say, 'Who hit the most home runs?'

Not Babe Ruth, Charley Pride.

'Who's the last .400 hitter?' Not Ted Williams, Charley Pride.

That's that's what I would have liked to have done.

-In 1956, still pursuing the love of the game, Charley returned to Memphis for another season sporting a newly developed knuckleball.

He went on to win 14 games, make the all-star team, pitching against baseball superstars Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Ernie Banks, meeting lifelong baseball fan and love of his life, Rozene Cohran, who was a little skeptical of her new suitor.

-I didn't talk to him at first, no.

-So what I did, I went and bought a record.

The Ames Brothers.

♪ It only hurts for a little while ♪ ♪ That's what they tell me And I called her back and told her I left a record over there.

She kept that record all the way up until I went in the Army.

-Charley's baseball career was interrupted in late 1956 when he received a draft notice and was ordered to report to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, for basic training.

-Did you miss me or what?

-Yeah.

-He thought I was gonna go out with somebody else.

-Because I would try to call, and she didn't answer.

I said, 'I wonder if she's out with somebody else.'

So they let me come home for Christmas.

Married on my dad's birthday, December 28th.

-With Rozene and Charley being a team and an economic team, they were following in a powerful black tradition of seeing partnerships, marriages as vivid partnerships that are inclusive and mutually respectful.

-As a teenager, I said I would never marry an athlete or entertainer.

-[ Chuckles ] -I got both in one. Never say never.

-♪ Rain dripping off the brim of my hat ♪ ♪ It sure is cold today ♪ And here I am a-walking down 66 ♪ ♪ Wish she hadn't done me that way ♪ ♪ Sleeping under a table at a roadside park ♪ ♪ A man could wake up dead ♪ But it sure seems warmer than it did ♪ ♪ Sleepin' in our king-size bed ♪ -After basic training, Charley was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, where he was assigned to quartermaster duty, played on the fort's baseball team, and sang at the Officers Club at night to entertain troops.

Released after 14 months and having never been deployed, he rejoined the Memphis Red Sox for one more baseball season, but the compensation wasn't enough to support his growing family, so Charley answered an ad in 'The Sporting News.'

-It said, 'Baseball players capable of playing A-ball right at this time...' And I got a reply from Missoula, Montana, and he says, 'Get in as good a shape as you can.'

I borrowed $400 left $200 with her and took off.

-In the early '60s, Charley Pride wanted to play for the Missoula Timberjacks, a minor league baseball team.

He decided to drive all the way out there from Memphis on his own.

-When baseball is in your soul, you just go to where you need to go so that you can keep playing it.

-Charley was cut after just four games with the Timberjacks.

At that time, Montana had the lowest African-American population in the United States but offered Pride a chance to avoid the segregated south.

-He gets a job in a smelting plant out there, and the smelting plant kind of has a semipro baseball team, which he joins and he's able to play baseball, albeit not on the track to be in the major leagues.

-The working conditions at the smelter were rough, but spirits on the field and in the locker room were high.

After games, the team would frequent locals bars where Charley would be encouraged to pick up a guitar and sing a few songs.

Life there led him to discover that music could transcend the worst of human nature.

-His landlady hears him singing and thinks 'You're really talented,' singing between innings, and so she gets him his first gig at a Helena, Montana, nightclub... -♪ I got a feeling called the 'blue hoo's' ♪ Oh, Lord, since my baby said good-bye ♪ ♪ I don't know what to do-hoo ♪ ♪ All I do is sit and cry, oh, Lord ♪ ♪ That nice long day she said good-bye ♪ Well, I started all by myself in a little club called the Main Tavern making about 20 bucks a day.

♪ I'm in love, I'm in love with a beautiful gal ♪ ♪ Say, what's the matter with me? ♪ ♪ Well, I'm in love, I'm in love with a beautiful gal ♪ ♪ But she don't care about me I graduated from there to Anaconda.

A guy said he'd pay me 40 bucks and I'll drive 80 miles to Anaconda to sing in his club.

♪ But I'm nobody ♪ Sure, but that ain't now ♪ 'Cause I'm lonesome ♪ I've got the lovesick blues -You have to do that apprenticeship, you have to play the clubs, at least in that era, that was absolutely part of coming up was the grind and the putting in the 10,000 hours and knowing how to reach an audience and how to handle hecklers.

-♪ Today and every day ♪ I'm just me -Montana would probably be the most unlikely place to start a country music career, but it worked for Charley Pride.

Merle Haggard recalled, once he had a concert in Montana, he needed an opening act, and he got Charley Pride to be his opening act.

-I didn't like the cold, the cold weather, but I loved the people there and I kind of got ahead there.

-In 1962, Montana's local DJ, Tiny Stokes, arranged for Charley to audition for a couple of well-known country music performers, Red Foley and Red Sovine.

The Reds were impressed and invited him to perform on stage later that night.

-He said something to them to the effect, 'Could you tell those people back in Nashville about me?'

-In 1963, During an uninvited tryout with the New York Mets in Clearwater, Florida, Charley accepted that his childhood dream of a career in baseball was over.

-I got the chance but I was so desperate, I think I was so nervous and tried to look so good when I first got in camp, so all in all, I think there was a lot against me.

He got a bus ticket back home to Montana with a stop in Music City.

In Nashville, the Civil Rights Movement intensifying and Charley took a chance and knocked on doors to see if Red Sovine and Red Foley's endorsement of his music had gotten through.

-Charley went to Cedarwood Publishing company, and he speaks to a very nice lady on the front desk, and he looked past her and sees Webb Pierce.

He dominated this business at one time, so Charley practically leaped over her desk.

-I said, 'Is that Mr. Pierce?' and they said, 'Yeah.'

'Can I speak to him?'

So I went and spoke to him.

-And went back and said, 'Mr. Pierce, my name is Charley Pride, and I'm from Montana, and I sing country music, and I've come to sing for you.'

And Webb said, 'Well, I'm happy to meet you Charley, but I do my own singing.'

-I said, 'No, no.'

You know how you say something... I just remember coming off like that.

-Webb Pierce, a country music star of the era, was known for his silver-dollar-studded cars, guitar-shaped swimming pools, and 13 'Billboard' chart-topping singles.

-Webb told me that he called for one of the guys at work there, Jack Johnson, and he said, 'Take this kid down to the studio and record him, and I'll listen to the tape.'

-After a quick demo-recording session, Johnson, surprised by the characteristics in Charley's voice, he said, 'Sing in your natural voice.'

Charley responded, 'This my natural voice.'

Recognizing the precarious but enormous opportunity, Jack Johnson offered to manage Pride's career and personally drove him back to Nashville bus station to ensure he wouldn't knock on any other doors on Music Row.

-And when I got back home, there was a contract waiting.

-To be a black kid coming to Nashville.

The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing.

You know the sit-ins and all the protests that were going all over the country, and to start knocking on doors of country music labels saying, 'I want to sing country music,' I mean, that's huge.

-He had turned me over to Jack Clement.

They picked out seven songs to give to me when I come through Nashville.

When Jack started producing me, Jack Clement, he says, 'Who is Charley Pride? What do you want?'

I say, 'Well, I want to go in the studio and make as good of records as I can, go out on stage and do them even better, get my own publishing company.'

He said, 'I got a publishing company.'

I said, 'Yeah, but you asked me what did I want to do.'

I said, 'I'm telling you.' 'Well,' he said, 'that might be your downfall.'

-What I knew about Jack Clement was Jack was one of those guys that, if he thought the odds were against him, that made him happier than if they were for him.

-[ Imitating trumpet ] Where's my 15-piece band? I moved here in the '60s.

And at that time, there wasn't a whole lot of players here.

There was a couple of bands full, two or three, but there was not nearly the players here then as there are now.

But there were some real good ones and good studios and things were happening... pretty good in the '60s, actually.

That's when I first did Charley Pride.

-He chose most all the things that we recorded.

Especially way up until just about all the while we were together, but he would always let me give my opinion on which song I liked or didn't like.

-'Cowboy' Jack Clement was the perfect producer for Mr. Pride.

That stretch of records that Cowboy Jack Clement and Mr. Pride made together, along with Nashville's finest musicians, and the songs as the centerpieces of those things, they are all masterful events.

Would you sing Just between you and me for me.

-Yes. -We'll dedicate this to Cowboy Jack Clement.

-♪ So I feel so blue sometimes I want to die ♪ ♪ And so I've got a broken heart ♪ ♪ So what?

♪ They say that time will heal all wounds in mice and men ♪ ♪ And I know that someday I'll forget ♪ ♪ And love again -Cowboy Jack would be responsible for launching some of the most unique musical careers, including George Jones, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash.

-♪ But just between you and me ♪ I've got my doubts about it ♪ But just between you and me ♪ You're too much to forget -Johnny Cash probably got Cowboy on the right rails to produce Charley, because it was a low voice, it had a lot of dimension, it had a lot of overtones and nuances.

-There isn't a lot of roadwork between Charley Pride's heart and his vocal cords.

That's a that's a straight and narrow shot.

-♪ Down at the railroad station ♪ ♪ there's people gettin' on ♪ Some are goin' north and some are a goin' south ♪ ♪ I'm just goin' to be gone ♪ Some people are born to be takers ♪ ♪ Others just want to give ♪ Some people live just to love ♪ ♪ But I just love to live ♪ For I was just born to be ♪ Exactly what you see ♪ Nothing more or less ♪ I'm not the worst or the best ♪ ♪ I just try to be ♪ Exactly what you see ♪ Today and every day ♪ I'm just me -If an artist had his own sound and style with a band, and they were cooking, I wanted to get that in the studio.

I've always tried to deal with artists in terms of where they're at, what their music is right now, and the studio is like where you sort of go in and harvest it.

-This is Lloyd Green which, when I first went in the studio, he was Jack Clement's number one steel player and mine for a long time.

-The musicians, quite frankly, were as important as the artist in those days.

They were contributory to the success or the sound of the record.

-Jack Clement, he was a character.

I had only been in a studio maybe once or twice in my life, when he said to Jack Johnson, he said, 'I think he's ready.'

Chet Atkins, a powerhouse producer, guitar virtuoso, and rising executive at RCA's country music division, became convinced of Pride's potential.

-Chet called him and said, 'Have you done anything with that' -- and I hate to use the term, but that's what he said -- 'that colored boy's songs?'

And Jack said, 'No, I'm pitching him though.

I might have a deal coming up.'

And Chet said, 'Well, bring it by and let me hear it one more time.'

He said, 'You know, I might be passing up another Elvis.'

-Chet Atkins had to be a visionary to be able to be the one to say, 'I'm gonna sign this person.

I know what this is probably gonna mean.'

But I think that Chet really saw the gift.

-He took it out to Monterey, California, to all the big wigs, and all of them looked around and say, 'He sound good voice.'

Say now, I don't know whether he said, 'He's colored,' or he showed the picture, but he -- it was like a pause, you know, unanimously, they said, 'We gonna release the record. We ain't gonna say nothing.'

And that's what they did.

He said 'You're gonna be on RCA.'

I said, 'Is that good?' And they laugh about it now.

The biggest label and in the world.

-Just as Branch Rickey integrated Major League Baseball with Jackie Robinson, Chet Atkins was determined to integrate country music with his new artist.

-♪ All the snakes crawl at night ♪ ♪ That's what they say ♪ When the sun goes down ♪ Then the snakes will play -Presuming the country music DJs would be skeptical about playing a black artist on their stations, in 1966, RCA released Charley's first single without the standard promotional photo and biography.

If there was anything the country music business dreaded more than controversy, it was a bad investment.

-I was a disc jockey in Mobile, Alabama, and I had gotten some rumors that, quote, we were gonna get a record from a black guy that sang country music.

And you know, we didn't have any records from black guys, and so the fact that there simply was no knowledge, there was not a mass communications, there was no video, there was no pictures.

-The day that his music first came out they didn't put his picture on it, and so DJs were playing his music all around the country, and then, when he went on the radio tour on television, they were like, 'Oh, well, we didn't know that.'

-While on stage at the 'Big D Jamboree' in Dallas, Willie Nelson had kissed Charley right on the lips in front of packed house.

The indelible kiss, along with the endorsement of other top country musicians, helped Charley win over his new audience.

-It's Willie's way of saying, 'If I'm kissing him on the lips, you've got to be okay with listening to him.'

-Oh.

Ahh!

[ Laughter ] -How you doing? -I got you back.

I've been wanting to do that for so many years.

-Oh, I know you have. And you do it so well.

-Jack Johnson, my one and only manager I ever had, he said, 'Charley, we going to Nashville, so you're gonna have to get by some folks.'

-Everybody had told me that how the Nashville music community reacted or accepted Charley Pride or didn't accept him was based on how Faron Young reacted to him.

Known as 'The Hillbilly Heartthrob,' and as an outspoken hardass, Faron Young was one of country music's most successful and colorful characters.

-We were playing pool one night at Faron's place, I think some bar or something.

And the governor of Tennessee was there.

Faron had run the table down so it just had one ball left, the eight ball.

It was about this far from the pocket.

So he was telling them what a great friend the governor was, you know, and how proud and honored he was to have him in his place.

And he said, here, Governor, make that ball for me.

And the governor missed it.

He said, 'Well, you walleyed son of a bitch.'

-He said that? -Yeah, to the governor.

-Faron was a feisty little guy who got into fights.

He was unpredictable.

He was a pretty redneck. If he liked Charley, then everybody was gonna like Charley.

-When we get to Nashville, we go all these bars looking for him.

We finally found him. When you meet Faron Young, he's probably gonna give you the n-word and everything.

Jack ran up and said, 'Faron,' he says, 'I'd like you to meet Charley Pride.'

His shoulders went like that.

Shoo!

'Charley Pride, you sang a fine song.'

I said, 'You do, too, Faron.'

We did about maybe two or three songs apiece or something like that. He said, 'You know what?

Here I am singing with a jig it don't mind it!'

-Oh, my goodness.

-No, no, no, that's what he said.

I said, 'I was waiting for you to say the big one.'

I said, 'I was gonna say, 'You little puckered-mouth banty rooster man.'' ♪♪ -Charley Pride must have an incredible ability to let things go and shrug things off his shoulders that would cripple or choke another person.

-Charley's ability to win over audiences one by one was a combination of the early advice from his mother and his experiences in Montana. He remained steadfast and let his music be the vaccine to possible prejudices.

-I didn't hear that much about it other than what I would hear in the papers or just somebody making a deal about, 'How could they let a black man be in country music?'

Why not?

-Dolly Parton had a pretty good way of disarming everybody before they could say a word.

She knew what they were thinking, and it was her job to make them think that.

Then, it was her job to make them think another way, and Mr. Pride, I think, had a lot of that same genius about him.

-♪ But just between you and me ♪ I've got my doubts about it ♪ But just between you and me ♪ You're too much to forget -With Charley third single, 'Just Between You and Me,' breaking the top 10 on the country charts, the Pride team of Cowboy Jack, Chet Atkins, and Jack Johnson were ready to put Charley on the road.

-Charley Pride's first big stage show was in Detroit.

He had three singles out, but people didn't know he was black.

His name was announced, and there was this huge amount of applause.

Then he steps into the spotlight -- silence.

-The day I introduced Charley Pride in Detroit has remained in my memory to this day.

I remember Charley coming out.

He didn't attempt to sing at first.

He had his guitar strapped over his shoulder.

It was kind of like this.

And he put his arms up on his guitar and he said, 'I realize I've got that permanent tan, but my name is Charley Pride and I am from Mississippi.

My daddy was a farmer down there, and I sing country music, and I want to entertain you if you'll let me.'

-Then he started singing, the applause came back.

-♪ Have you ever been there on a Friday night? ♪ ♪ Down in the Quarter when the moon was bright ♪ ♪ All together, kind of living like down in Louisiana ♪ ♪ Where the bayou runs by the side of the road ♪ ♪ Sugarcane and cotton rows I said, 'Ah. If I can get in front of him, he don't care nothin' about no pigmentation.'

♪ At first, mom and papa called their little boy Ned ♪ ♪ Raised him on the banks of the riverbed ♪ ♪ A houseboat tied to a big tall tree ♪ ♪ A home for my papa and my mama and me ♪ ♪ The clock strikes 3:00, papa jumps to his feet ♪ ♪ Already mama cookin' papa somethin' to eat ♪ ♪ At half past, papa, he's ready to go ♪ ♪ He jumps in his pirogue headed down the bayou ♪ It never did happen. I never had one catcall or iota, like Jackie Robinson went through, in my whole career, to this very moment.

When that question is asked, and I say, 'No, I haven't,' I get that 'I can't believe' look or 'you got to be kidding' look or 'I don't believe you' look.

-He was accepted by audiences.

His career blossomed very rapidly once they started putting records out on RCA.

-♪ I'm in love, I'm in love -Before the end of the year, Charley released his first full album.

-That was a decision to call me 'Country' Charley Pride.

I think that was a point, too, to emphasize fully that I wasn't, by looking at the pigments, it wasn't no fluke or that sort of thing.

-At that time, if you really wanted to hit the big time, you came through me.

I laughed to myself they put on the record 'Country' Charley Pride, and I'm sure that they wanted all the disc jockeys to know he that was a country singer.

-It's just a one of those wonderful country records of the era that defined country music when it didn't require more than one definition.

-That's crazy that Cowboy Jack, at that time, would go, 'This could work.' You know, it's crazy to think.

But the thing that Charley had that was undeniable, and he still has, was that voice.

-♪ All the snakes crawl at night ♪ ♪ That's what they say ♪ When the sun goes down ♪ Then the snakes will play -He would just pick songs that were different and unusual, like who would have thought of the 'Snakes Crawl At Night,' you know, talking about just wild, mean people getting out doing terrible things.

-Country music hadn't included a single African-American performer since DeFord Bailey.

Life and inspiration would come full circle with Charley's debut performance on the 'Grand Ole Opry' stage.

On January 1, 1967, Ernest Tubb brought me on the stage. I was scared.

-It really wasn't until he walked out on that 'Opry' stage that I think that audience saw him for the first time.

-♪ They call mama Rita and my daddy Jack ♪ ♪ Little baby brother on the floor, that's Mack ♪ -I know it was a big time for him.

It meant a lot to him, probably more than he would have even said, because that is what he grew up with.

-With steel guitar player and friend Lloyd Green by his side, Charley made his network TV debut on one top prime time variety shows.

-We think you will enjoy our special guest this evening.

A gentlemen who really knows how to sing country songs, Charley Pride. Let's give him a nice welcome!

-♪ So I feel so blue sometimes I want to die ♪ ♪ And so I've got a broken heart ♪ ♪ So what?

American music is made up of gospel, country, and the blues.

Those three, and I think each one borrowed from the other over the years that I've grown up and listened to the music.

♪ And I know that someday I'll forget and love again ♪ ♪ But just between you and me ♪ I've got my doubts about it ♪ But just between you and me ♪ You're too much to forget -On April 4th, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated while supporting striking workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

African-Americans across the country were rallying.

Memorials and marches were punctuated by sporadic violence, tanks passed through the neighborhood streets of Nashville, the 'Grand Ole Opry' canceled its first performance in 43 years, and Charley Pride, scheduled to perform, contemplated what to do.

-I was in Big Spring, Texas.

I was touring with a guy by the name of Guy Mitchell.

We were at the hotel and it came down that it happened.

Guy Mitchell, when he heard, he said, 'I can't go.' We're sold out, this is on me.

Am I gonna go and do the show?

I said, 'I'm going to do the show.'

I got me a cab.

On the way out to the show, the dispatcher told the driver, he said, 'They got him, that Martin Luther King.'

He said, 'Yeah, really.'

He said, 'I got one here I'm taking to a show right now.'

'I got one here.' So I didn't say a word.

I got out of the cab.

I got on stage, nobody said nothing, but they applauded.

I got a standing ovation.

I didn't say nothing about nothing pertaining to what had happened, but it was hanging there what had happened, and me the only one with these pigmentations.

You don't forget nothing like that.

♪♪ -By 1969, Charley was celebrating a number 1 'Billboard' country single.

-♪ For you to wear ♪ Everything I have is standing here ♪ ♪ In front of you to see ♪ All I have to offer you is me ♪ -'All I Have to Offer You is Me' was a million seller and everybody loves it, and talking about, 'Why is that voice sticking out that gave it that little extra fullness?'

-The fact that he's sang much better than so many of the good country artists were at the time, them good old white boys, and Charley just really gave them a run for their money.

-It scared em. People around here get scared real easy.

-♪ Sweetheart, I give you all my love in every way I can ♪ ♪ But make sure that's what you want while you're still free ♪ -He and Elvis were so significant to RCA Records that they paid careful attention, because they were selling millions of records.

-While acclimating to the lifestyle that comes with being on the road and touring internationally, Charley was hospitalized after experiencing bouts of paranoia, insomnia, and confusion.

-First, I didn't have no idea what it was, and It started in Germany. I was over entertaining troops, and I thought I just was overworked.

You know, I stayed up doing two shows a night sometimes.

-He got a startling diagnosis -- bipolar disorder.

-They told us, but he didn't accept it, and it took a couple of episodes, when he became very manic, and then he realized that he had to take the medicine.

There have been many people who have come to us and said, 'I decided to take my medication because you did.'

-Fame can take you out there and dance in a strange way sometimes.

And it's wonderful to have somebody at home to go, 'We need to go to the car wash, you know, and let's see about this.'

But I applaud him for taking those steps, because you know, just to exist in this business, you know, it's a full-time squirrel job.

-With the closest major airport 90 miles from their home in Helena, a growing international tour schedule, and a family of five, Charley desired to simplify.

-Charley said, 'Everywhere I go, I got to leave a day early 'cause I have two or three stops, flights, and I can't make it work in the same way getting back.

And I want to move to someplace.'

He didn't want to move to Nashville.

I suggested they ought to consider Dallas.

-When he went off to Texas, he staged his campaign from down there, from behind his own curtain.

I thought that was pretty splendid.

That was pretty wise. It's good to have, you know, a place of retreat, where you can see things clearer.

-.Charley Pride!

[ Applause ] -The country music male vocalist of the year is... Charley Pride.

[ Applause ] The '70s started with a run of awards and a string of hit records that would catapult Charley into bona fide superstardom.

In 1971, he would release his soon-to-be signature song.

-♪ You've got to kiss an angel good morning ♪ ♪ Let her know you think about her when you're gone ♪ ♪ Kiss an angel good morning ♪ And love her like the devil when you get back home ♪ -Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, country artists like Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, and Charley Pride would achieve a new level of success by crossing over onto the pop charts.

-Charley was a country act.

He didn't get played on pop radio until he had a song called 'Kiss an Angel Good Morning' which was a huge record for him in the pop world.

-♪ Some glad morning when this life is o'er ♪ ♪ I'll fly away -Charley's faith and spirituality would present itself on his two-time Grammy award-winning album 'Did You Think to Pray.'

♪ Oh, I'll fly away ♪ Oh, glory, I'll fly away ♪ In the morning -We relate in the same way to God.

We've talked about that a lot, too.

We don't believe you have to cram it down somebody else's throat, I mean, if it's working for you personally, then that should be how you relate to God.

Everybody should do it in their own way.

-My bride -- I call her my bride.

She said, 'Why don't you call Dolly Parton and see if she's got a good gospel song?'

I said, 'I'm not going to call Dolly.'

'Well, I'll do it.'

-That's a true story. She called me to say that he loved my song 'God's Coloring Book,' and he said, 'Would you let me record it.' I said, 'Only if you let me sing it with you.

-♪ And the multicolored rainbow ♪ ♪ Stretched across the sky ♪ And the purple haze at sunset ♪ ♪ Just before the night ♪ And the more I look around me ♪ ♪ The more that I do look ♪ The more I realize that I am viewing ♪ ♪ God's coloring book -He understands God. He knows what he's doing here, why he's put here, where he's going, and that's always a good place to be.

-♪ He is all around me ♪ He's everywhere I look ♪ And each new day is but a new page ♪ ♪ In God's coloring book Over the years, I've just admired her so much -- she's a songwriter, businesswoman, I mean, the whole bit.

Like I say on stage, 'And she's rich, too!'

[ Chuckles ] -Recognizing the multiple talents of his contemporaries, Charley set out to put his skills to use and conquer the business side of country music.

-I always wanted to be as good as businessman as I was an entertainer.

Jack Johnson -- we were the best one-two punch managing artists in the business.

We thought about starting a publishing company.

He was a Gemini and I was Pisces, so we called it PiGem.

-In our world, there's songwriting, and then there's publishing. If you're a writer/artist, both of them are incomes for you.

-So why not start a publishing company and hire some songwriters and make some money off some songwriters, and it was a genius move for him.

-I think he respected what they did, and he wanted to cultivate that, so you got a little money.

Why not buy into something that you love?

-I noticed a long time into my career that I wasn't a songwriter.

-Charley Pride, with his talent, probably enhanced a lot of songs while he was recording them by making a lyric more him or making it work better and not took any credit either, but that, again, that's what great artists do.

-Over the span of his 50-year career, Charley amassed more than 52 Top-10 Country hits and went on to sell tens of millions of records worldwide.

-I've a very blessed person, I'm telling ya.

I've recorded about 400 and some songs.

-497 to be exact.

If you did them all, you'd be up here 24 hours and 38 minutes.

Hey, hey.

-Are you filming us?

-I'll pull out some other stuff to show you.

-This is a Hong Kong issue of your very first album.

I think I showed you this once before.

-There's my first... -Yellow vinyl.

They misspelled here, 'The 'Sankes' Crawl at Night.'

S-A-N-K-E-S.

This is from Chile.

-Chile? -'Where do I Put a Memory' -♪ Where do I put... -'You're my Jamaica,' 'Dallas Cowboys.'

-That was a good cut.

-'Down on the Farm', 'Let a Little Love Come In,' 'Best There Is,' 'Love on a Blue Rainy Day,' every RCA single.

Yeah, Jimmy Carter had all those made.

-Now, I want first crack at it. You know if you go before I do, we're gonna work out something. -[ Laughing ] It's like a children's book, but it just talks about him.

-That's papa there, when he was in the cotton fields back home.

It reminds me of what I don't ever want to go back to doing because it hurts my fingers and my back and my knees.

And it goes like this... ♪ When I was a little bitty baby ♪ ♪ My mommy would rock me in the cradle ♪ ♪ In them old cotton fields back home ♪ Going back and listening to all the songs that I recorded, they're much much better than I thought they were when I was doing them. I mean, it's just that -- I listen, I said, 'I did pretty good!'

-I worked with him at a special when we did country at the White House.

It was the first African-American president, and here we had the first African-American artist in country music on the bill.

-Welcome to the White House.

Tonight, we celebrate country music.

We are thrilled and honored to be joined by Brad Paisley and Charley Pride.

-Playing the White House for the first African-American president with, really, the first sort of mega-successful African-American country music singer, who had been a friend of mine since I was a teenager, it was very poetic.

-♪ When them cotton bolls get rotten ♪ ♪ You can't pick very much cotton ♪ ♪ In them old cotton fields back home ♪ ♪ Yes, it was down in Louisiana ♪ ♪ Just about a mile from Texarkana ♪ ♪ In them old cotton fields back home ♪ ♪ Oh, now, gee -Charley is a fighter, for one.

He's not afraid to kind of do things his own way, kind of be a trailblazer.

-♪ When I was a little bitty baby ♪ ♪ My mommy would rock me in the cradle ♪ ♪ In them old cotton fields back home ♪ ♪ Yes, when I was a little bitty baby ♪ ♪ My mommy would rock me in the cradle ♪ ♪ In them old cotton fields back home ♪ -Charley Pride might not have made it to the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, but ironically, when the Country Music Hall of Fame was first established in the '60s, they used Cooperstown as the model.

Charley might not have gotten his dream to be in Cooperstown.

Being in the Hall of Fame is right up there.

-Charley's unique contribution to country music has continually been recognized.

Receiving the Academy Of Country Music's Pioneer Award, a Trumpet Award -- which celebrates African-Americans who achieved greatness, being inducted into the 'Grand Ole Opry,' having a Charley Pride star added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award alongside the 'Father of Country Music,' Jimmie Rodgers, whose music filled Pride's childhood home on that old Philco radio back in Sledge, Mississippi.

-Everything he's accomplished as a human being and as a singer and as a groundbreaking African-American country singer, we're talking about a person that, deep down, was the most helpful and kind of anyone that I met.

-The history books, unfairly, will mostly note that Charley Pride was a great country singer who was African-American.

You can take off the African-American part.

He's one of America's great country stars.

He is Americana personified.

He is exactly what an American master should be.

-He is true traditional country singer and he's sincere about it, and he loves what he's doing.

That's what he is.

That's what he wants to be remember as -- one of the country singers who was truly loyal to the business.

He loves other country artists.

-♪ I was just born to be ♪ Exactly what you see ♪ Nothing more or less ♪ I'm not the worst or the best ♪ -Nobody knows how Charley Pride felt in this town, with this dream he had of playing country music, where there wasn't a lot of Charley Prides in country music.

And I just got to say that that's a fight I can't even give you an answer for or relate to.

-I don't know if he sees himself as this modern-day hero the way that the rest of us see him, because I think we understand the magnitude of what it was that he was able to accomplish, and whether or not he sees himself as a pioneer, we all do.

-I can't imagine what it was like, you know, and the '30s and '40s were such a tough time for African-Americans.

I can't imagine in Sledge, Mississippi, what that was like.

As tough as it was, it made him to see the world in a very unique and beautiful way.

-There are still a lot of people growing up in Mississippi who need to know that story of what Charley Pride did in music and what he represents.

There are people in Mississippi today who don't know that story still.

We have to keep reaching out and reminding the young men and women of the state, every generation, that there is hope.

-There's always been a handful of people with global appeal that goes beyond just the face value of the culture of country music.

Mr. Pride is absolutely one of those folks.

-♪ Oh, Lord, I don't know what I'd do-hoo ♪ ♪ All I do is sit and sigh, oh, Lord ♪ ♪ That nice long day she said good-bye ♪ ♪ Dear Lord, I thought I would cry ♪ ♪ She'd do me, she'd do you ♪ She's got that kind of lovin' ♪ ♪ Lord, I love to hear her ♪ When she calls me sweet daddy ♪ ♪ Such a beautiful dream -I can't imagine anybody sitting with their eyes shut, listening to a pair of speakers, when that man starts singing, you don't go, 'Oh, my God, that's an artist right there.'

And is it country music?

You bet your ass it's country music.

-That's the career you want when you're starting music.

You want a career that's lasted decades, and you've had your shining moments, and when you're on the back end of that career, people still want to come hang out with you.

-This fella that took a chance, he wound up with 69 chart records, 52 in the top 10, and 29 number-one records.

-There are a lot of people raised like Charley Pride, same background as Charley Pride, but didn't become that other.

♪ Why you stand beside me ♪ I don't know ♪ There's so many places ♪ A girl like you could go ♪ I hope you see enough in me ♪ To make you want to stay ♪ 'Cause it seems I'm always standing in my own way ♪ -As a black man, looking up to the only black male in country music was a huge thing for me.

I see country music opening up to a lot more diversity and cultural differences.

Thank you for not quitting.

Thank you for being courageous, because you have inspired me to step out and join the country music family.

-He's like Hank Sr. He's like Willie.

He's like Dolly. He's part of the history and part of what's important in country music.

Biggest legacy is he left behind a cache of music that is just awesome, that's divine.

It's country music royalty.

-What Jack Clement used to tell me, he says 'Charley,' he says, 'the songs we record now,' said, '50 years from now, they're going to be wanting to hear 'em and they're going to be wanting you to sing 'em,' And he's just about spot on.

♪ I've always there wherever I am ♪ ♪ There between what I'm reaching for ♪ ♪ And the fingers on my hand [ Projector clicking ] [ Projector turns off ] -♪ Seems I'm always standing in my way ♪ -♪ I'd step aside if I could ♪ 'Cause I live for your embrace ♪ -♪ But it seems I'm always standing in my way ♪ -♪ I've always there wherever I am ♪ ♪ There between what I'm reaching for ♪ ♪ And the fingers on my hand ♪♪ ♪♪