One of the most telling parts of Ken Burns’ sprawling 2019 PBS documentary “Country Music” was the section devoted to Charley Pride, who was billed as country music’s first Black superstar. In the segment, Pride, who died on December 12 of COVID-19 complications at age 86, tells a story that perfectly illustrates what it was like to be a Black man during the Civil Rights era singing what was — and, to many, is still — considered to be white man’s music. It also perfectly illustrates what it was like back then to be a Black man trying to make it in a white world.
Pride recalls his early days as a newcomer to Nashville in the mid-’60s and being introduced for the first time to Faron Young, the superstar who recorded the 1961 classic “Hello Walls.” Young was sort of the town quarterback, and, as Pride’s manager at the time told him, if you could win over Faron Young, you were on your way; if you couldn’t, well, better luck next life. According to Pride, that first encounter, the beginning of a friendship that would last until Young died in 1996, went something like this: