This Week In Southern History: March 18, 1934 - Charley Pride is Born!
This Week In Southern History, we go all the way back to March 18, 1934, and here’s what the world looked like then!:
In Bienville Parish, Louisiana, America’s favorite outlaws, lovers, and abject f*ckin lunatics Bonnie and Clyde, were finally surrounded by police and killed.
Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini meet for the first time, probably to talk about mustache stuff, I bet.
Also, in 1934, the country of Persia officially became Iran prompting thousands of people to say, “Call it what you want, but I ain’t changing the name of this here rug!”
Due to a clerical error on a birth certificate, there was also a sudden name change down in Sledge, Mississippi, when a young man intended to be called Charl was born. That doctor’s misspelling would lead him to be known by the name we all know today: Charley Pride.
As seemed to be required by law during the depression era, Charley was one of eleven children born to a sharecropping family. That’s a five-on-five basketball team with one leftover to keep score and referee! Let’s all take a moment to give a round of applause to all the mothers during this period in American history who spent more time in labor than my ass spent studying for tests. I know the American Healthcare system is fraught with problems and doesn’t seem overly concerned with the consumer’s experience, but for the love of God, do you think we could get some sort of sandwich shop-style punch card for women like this? I say after at least nine kids, you should get the 10th for free, but hell, maybe that’s just me!
Charley took a liking to picking and singing at an early age. Still, before he became the country crooner we know and love, he pursued another one of his talents: Professional baseball. Being in the entertainment industry myself, it always makes me feel so inadequate when I learn that someone who is undoubtedly a legend in their field could have also been successful at something else. I mean, God dang, Charley, would you mind if you saved some of the talents for the rest of us? It’s all I can do to get my fat ass out of bed and tell jokes for an hour each night, and here Charley is, a low-key world-class athlete on the side!
Charley decided to embark on his baseball journey when he was the ripe old age of 16! To be fair, in the 1950s, that was the equivalent of a modern-day 40-year-old. Aside from babies being born with chest hair, another thing exclusive to that era was blatant and nonsensical racism, so Charley had to pursue his baseball dreams in The Negro League. Racism obviously still exists today, but at least folks nowadays try to hide it and pretend it doesn’t. Back then sumbitches were just wide open: “Hey, sorry… Blacks gotta play baseball somewhere else because of… uh… hell it’s somewhere in the bible, I’m sure!”
While in The Negro League, Charley would pitch for The Memphis Red Sox and The Louisville Clippers before being traded (along with Jesse Mitchell) to The Birmingham Black Barons for a team bus. Yes, you read that correctly. In Pride’s 1994 autobiography he recalled the incident by saying "Jesse and I may have the distinction of being the only players in history to be traded for a used motor vehicle,"
In the minor leagues he pitched for The Boise Yankees, The Fon Du Lac Panthers (which sounds made up) The Missoula Timberjacks, and The East Helena Smelterites (for the love of god lol) but his talents would never be enough to take him to the next level…. in baseball that is. Oddly enough it was while playing with The Smelterites that Charley first became a professional singer.
Charley’s baseball manager heard him singing, and much like everyone else in America soon would, he loved it. He started paying Charley to sing before the game started and wouldn’t ya know it… this put more butts in the seats!
Charley would go on to have massive success as a country artist and of course had tons of crossover appeal with the song “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” and would later be named one of only three African-american members of The Grand Ole Opry (DeFord Bailey being the first, and Darius Rucker being the most recent. )
I will be honest with you all, while writing this I have become painfully aware of how difficult it is for me as a white man to even attempt to tell Charley’s story. Maybe it’s just a lack of talent (I’m fine admitting that) but it’s more likely a lack of perspective. It’s so easy for me to sit here and list all of his accomplishments, which frankly would be otherworldly impressive in SPITE of the fact that he did all of this while being a Black man in America at a time when that was even more difficult than it is today. I genuinely can’t fathom it.
I know first hand how difficult the entertainment business is and I have virtually every resource at my disposal. When Charley Pride embarked on his journey he wasn’t even allowed to use the same damn water fountain as George Jones. Really think about that for a second. Did it stop him from outselling every other artist aside from Elvis freaking Presley on the RCA label? No it didn’t. Just exactly what is any of our excuses?
I tell you what I’m going to do today… I’m going to order Charley’s Autobiography and let him tell me his story. Maybe we all should and chat about it later huh?
Yep…. let’s put a pin in this one and come back to it later. This Week In Southern History… I’m gonna go read a damn book!
Seriously and maybe I’m being a little dramatic but reading about Charley Pride has REALLLLLLLLY made me feel like a piece of shit lol.
Do you know how many times THIS WEEK I have complained about something in the entertainment business? Do you know how many times A DAY I pat myself on the back for persevering in an industry that normally chews people up and spits them out? I am typing this to you in my underwear while drinking a protein shake. I do not deserve the awards that I give myself in times of mania lol.
Alright. Thank you for joining me on this journey so far and we will be back with our regularly scheduled programming soon.
‘ A mediocre white man
P.S. thank you for the wonderful notes on my father’s stories. It has made his week, and also mine. I look forward to sharing more with you!
P.P.S. You’re awesome. Take your vitamins and give yourself a hug:)
Hey Corey, we didn't listen to very much country when I was a kid in the 70s, but Charley Pride was definitely one of our favorites. (My mom used to sing "Rose Garden", by Lynn Anderson to me and my bro). In case you weren't aware, at the height of his popularity in 1971 with "Kiss an Angel Good Morning" he also recorded the theme for the film "Sometimes a Great Notion", called "All His Children". You should check out this movie if for nothing else but the famous "drowning" scene with Paul Newman and Richard Jaeckel. Also stars Henry Fonda as the patriarch of a logging family on the Oregon Coast, so it's about people I grew up around in southern Oregon...that's right, Oregon rednecks!
Thanks for this. Charley Pride was my oldest brother’s favorite and he shared the music with me when I was little, so I love it, too. BTW, have to point out, it’s *Fond* du Lac. It’s a beautiful town in my home state of WI, on the shores of Lake Winnebago. Also, my Dad, who was himself a minor league ball player for the then Milwaukee Braves system, and my Mom started their family in the depression. They only had nine, though, so no free birthin’ for my Mom. 😂