‘Among the Best’

By Tom Nicol

On Saturday night, September 23, 2017, country and gospel singer, Charlie Pride, roamed the stage of the Crockett Civic Center for 90 minutes where he owned the “sold out” audience in attendance. At the age of 79 years, he presented a fresh outlook on country and gospel songs performed as covers, ones that he wrote himself and a few that had been written especially for him by other talented song writers such as Dolly Parton, all the while carrying on lively conversational comments to and with a wildly appreciative audience.

During his stint on-stage, he commented on his early career and his life in a little “cotton pickin” town named Sledge, Mississippi, located 50 miles or so south of Memphis, Tennessee, in the Mississippi Delta. There, as a youngster he picked cotton with others in his family of eleven children as poor sharecroppers. He was also an athlete earning tryouts with several major league baseball teams and with their farm systems as a pitcher. However, upon injuring his arm, he became determined to capitalize on his musical talent and headed for Nashville.

Pride’s instant success with his music was personified by comments made to him by my 11-year old granddaughter. She wrote him a note in which she thanked him for taking a picture with her and said, “I didn’t know who you were when we came to your show but after that performance, I will never forget you.”

This writer is several years older than Pride and my mother was one of his staunchest fans. But she, like many of his early fans never knew that he was black, until she attended a concert in Tyler early in his career. But like his other fans, no one really cared, they just wanted to hear his music.

According to Pride, Nashville manager and agent Jack D. Johnson originally signed him to RCA Victor in 1965. His first song, “The Snakes Crawl at Night” did not chart. On the records of this song submitted to radio stations for airplay, he was listed as “Country Charley Pride.” At that time, country music was a white medium. Johnson made sure that no pictures of Charley were distributed for the first two years of his career, to avoid the effects of Jim Crowism. Pride stated that getting promoters to bring in a black country singer was a bigger problem: “people didn’t care if I was pink. RCA signed me… they knew I was colored…They decided to put the record out and let it speak for itself.” And it did in volumes.

In 1971, he released what would become his greatest hit, “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’,” a million-selling crossover single that helped Pride land the Country Music Association’s prestigious Entertainer of the Year award, as well as Top Male Vocalist. He also won CMA’s Top Male Vocalist award again in 1972.

“Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'” became Pride’s signature tune. Besides being a five-week country number one in late 1971 and early 1972, the song was also his only pop top-40 hit, hitting number 21, and reaching the top 10 of the Adult Contemporary charts, as well.

My family and I have regularly attended the PWFAA concerts for over 20 years, the later of which we have been accompanied by our granddaughter. A barometer of Saturday’s quality show was that she did not fall asleep before it was over. In our opinion, this was certainly one of the best performances we have ever seen during the series of concerts and may even be the “Best.” Each and every song, whether he wrote it, it was a cover song or someone else wrote it for him, was followed by a wildly applauding and sometimes standing audience ovation.

Therefore we say, “So long Charlie, take care of yourself on your tour and come back to Crockett, Texas to visit us again real soon.” We will miss you and applaud the great job the PWFAA did in bringing you in this time.