NOT SO LONG AGO AND NOT SO FAR AWAY….MICHIGAN, 1967

The year I finished the first grade actually:

“Attempting to soften any reaction…emcee Ralph Emery stressed Pride’s Mississippi heritage and country credentials in his intro. This initially drew boisterous applause, since the single ‘Just Between You and Me’ was riding high on the charts. But, Pride recalled in his autobiography, once he stepped onstage, ‘As suddenly as it had begun, the applause faded. It didn’t stop–just dropped like volume being turned down on a radio. It settled to a low murmur.’ He stepped to the mike and turned the tension into a laugh. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he declared, ‘I realize this is a little unique…me coming out here on a country music show wearing this permanent tan.’ By putting the best possible spin on the crowd’s mood, he had deftly defused any potential controversy. In 10 minutes, he sang his three singles and a couple of Hank Williams tunes, a Pride specialty. The crowd wanted more.”

John Morthland describing the reaction to Charley Pride’s first public appearance as a country star, which took place at the Olympia Theater in Detroit. Pride’s managment and record label had avoided announcing that Pride was black until he was established on the radio. The year was 1967.

(Liner Notes: Charley Pride: Legendary Country Singers Time-Life 1996)

NOTE: Pride went on to notch thirty-nine #1 Country hits. The first came in 1969. He followed Louis Jordan, the first African-American to have a #1 Country record (albeit when it was still strictly a juke-box chart and not nearly as subject to Nashville’s direct control), and “Nat King” Cole, the second, by twenty-five years. He beat Darius Rucker–the fourth African-American to have a #1 Country record, and the first to do so without being a genius–by thirty-nine years.

Hey, at least I lived to see it.

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