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Before Nashville, Charley Pride Made a Name in Memphis

Written by Jameus Mooney

On Saturday, COVID-19 took another casualty, this time in the form of long-time country music sensation Charley Pride, who was 86 years of age. Pride, who recently won the CMA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame two decades ago and is one of only three African Americans in the Grand Ol’ Opry, had recently done a song with Garth Brooks on Brooks’ latest record. Brooks was an avid fan of Pride, having covering Pride’s hit “I Know One” on his 1989 self-titled debut album. Pride performed 36 number one hits, including I’d Rather Love You, The Snakes Crawl at Night and Kiss an Angel Good Morning.

However, his legacy is more than just an icon that sits on a bar stool strumming a melodious guitar, rather much deeper than that. Pride’s first profession was as a baseball player.

In the early 1950s, the first country music superstar of color pitched a sandlot game against the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro Leagues. They were so impressed that they offered him a contract. He was a pitcher with a devastating curve and an outfielder with a switch in his bat. He signed at 19 and showed so much promise he even spent time in the Yankees system after his first year as a Negro Leaguer. Following an injury in the Yankees system, he returned to Memphis. In 1956 and 1957, he was an All-Star in the Negro Leagues. In 1961 and 1962, he tried out for the Angels and Mets, respectively.

After the tryouts, he gave up on his baseball dream and went from Memphis three hours Northeast to Nashville and became an overnight success. Pride sold over 25 million records worldwide, has gone gold 31 times and platinum four times. He stuck around baseball, however, as in Ted Williams (yes, that Ted Williams) final year as a manager in Texas he invited Pride to camp. He has been a staple of Rangers Spring Training working to help develop players for the Rangers ever since. Every year he wore number five and had his own locker in the coaches room from 1972-2020. In 2010, he bought stake as a minority owner within the organization.

Charley even got a basehit off of Hall of Famer Jim Palmer in the clip above!

Pride putting on a show for the Rangers in 2019.
Pride at Globe Life Park in 2020.

Baseball mourns the loss of Charley Pride just as much as music. Today, we celebrate a great life from a legendary and groundbreaking man.

About the author

Jameus Mooney