NASHVILLE (Circa) — Charley Pride is one of the most successful country artists of all time.
He’s had 36 No. 1 hits, 11 gold albums, won three Grammys, and sold more records for RCA than any artists except Elvis Presley.
Circa sat down with the 84-year-old legend backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in June and talked to him about his career.
"I always felt there was something else out there other than me picking cotton beside my dad," Pride recounts. "I said there's got to be something better than this, but when I saw Jackie Robinson go to major leagues, I said here's a way for me to get out of these cotton fields."
Pride is the first African-American country singer to ever perform at the Grand Ole Opry and is widely recognized as the first African-American country music superstar. He's been called a pioneer, and a trailblazer, for helping to break color barriers within the genre.
I'm the most staunchest American that you'll ever meet.
"I've always had reporters ask me when I'm giving interviews, you must have had a hard time," says Pride. "You haven't asked it in this way but here's the way most of the time they'll [reporters] say it when I'm giving an interview. 'Charley, how did it feel to be the Jackie Robinson of country music? Charley, how does it feel to be the first colored country singer? Charley, how does it feel to be the first negro country singer? Charley, how does it feel to be the first black country singer? Charley, how does it feel to be the first Afro-American country singer?' I said it feels the same way when I was colored, I don't feel no different because most of the time they use colored."
He talked about the the first time he played in front of a country music audience,
"I came out of those shadows into those lights. I said, 'I realize me coming out here on the country music show wearing this permanent tan, but I'm going to do my three singles, I only got 10 minutes. I'll try to do another one for you. But, I ain't got time to be talking about pigmentation and all this.' After I finished playing they didn't care if I was green."
When asked if the pioneer label made him uncomfortable, Pride responded, "Any one of those labels, Jackie Robinson, colored, any that I just named, you can call me. Use any label you want to but just always remember though, I'm the most staunchest American that you'll ever meet."