In the 26 years between first stepping on the Grand Ole Opry stage and being invited to become an official Opry member, Charley Pride was breaking down barriers and winning fans all over the world, one unforgettable hit song at a time. One of 11 children born to a Mississippi sharecropper, Pride was destined for a promising career in baseball’s Negro American League and tried out for the New York Mets, but on his way back to Memphis, where he played ball, the singer made a fateful trip to Nashville.
The rest is not mere history, but groundbreaking achievement for the first African-American solo singer to ever perform on the Opry, which Pride did, on January 7th, 1967. A lifelong disciple of Hank Williams, Pride chose his Opry debut to perform Hank’s “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You),” as well as the debut single he cut for RCA, “The Snakes Crawl at Night,” which ultimately failed to chart. By 1969, however, Pride was on a roll, with a string of chart-toppers that included “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me),” “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” and the pop-crossover smash, “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’.”
Numerous network TV appearances followed, including Hee Haw, from which the above clip is taken. In 1993, Pride was invited to join the Opry, saying at the time, “It’s as if I had made it in baseball and they came up to me and took me to Cooperstown and said, ‘This is where your [Hall of Fame] plaque is going to be – beside Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron.'” Pride did eventually become a Hall of Famer — in 2000, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.