In only two minutes, my Christmas Song of the Day for December 8 mentions lots of things associated with the season: Snow, friendly and joyful people, Christmas trees, sleigh bells, chimes, reindeer and children waiting for Santa. But the journey to get there for the artist who popularized it wasn’t easy.
Though he picked up his first guitar when he was 14, Charley Pride (born 1938) at first wanted to be a baseball player. In 1952, he played in the dying Negro Leagues as a pitcher, and for a few years he bounced around the minor leagues of Organized Baseball with farm clubs of the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds. As late as 1962, Pride had a tryout with the expansion New York Mets, but he had blown out his arm by then, and the team passed.
He moved to Montana in 1960, where he remained for a decade. By the time he relocated to Texas in 1969, he was a major country and western star.
While trying to live out his diamond dreams, he sometimes made music; a song he recorded in 1958 at the legendary Sun studio in Memphis survives. During his time in Montana, he worked by day and played both semipro baseball and guitar by night; a demo tape made its way to Chet Atkins in Nashville, who signed Pride to an RCA contract in 1965. At first he was billed as “Country Charley Pride,” and his first album didn’t have his picture on it. Whether it was to disguise his race or to let the music speak for itself, or both, is disputed, but he eventually became that rarest of people, an African American country star. In all the years since, only Darius Rucker (also known as the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish) has had anything like the C&W success Pride had in his heyday. By 1969, Pride had his first #1 single, “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me),” and he continued to have hits well into the 1980s. His biggest hit, which also made the top 40 of the pop charts, was 1971’s “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’.”
In 1970, Pride recorded his first and only Christmas album, and its title song, “Christmas in My Home Town,” remains a pick-me-up to this day. It was written by Lassaye Van Buren Holmes, who at the time was the director of the A Cappella Choir at historically black Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi.