MISSOULA – For years, longtime Montanans have pointed with pride to country music legend Charlie Pride, relating stories of him playing baseball and singing in local watering holes.
Now, those Treasure State ties are receiving attention as the PBS series “American Masters” pays tribute to the man who sold millions of records and broke the color barrier in Nashville.
Pride’s first brush with fame wasn’t on a stage, but a baseball diamond. For three weeks in 1960 he played for the Missoula Timberjacks, before moving to Helena. That’s where he worked in the East Helena smelter, playing for the company team. As the story goes, after singing at company picnics, and “in between innings”, he began playing in places like the old Main Tavern, with dreams of making that his career.
He’d eventually move his family to Great Falls to be closer to flights as his career took off.
“When Jackie Robinson went to the Major Leagues I was picking cotton beside my dad and I said to myself ‘here’s my way out of the cotton field’. Playing in the Negro League the guys heard my voice and said ‘man, you’d make a lot of money signing. You sing pretty good.’
“American Masters – Charley Pride: I’m Just Me” tracks his early years and rise to stardom, and also his lasting influence on country music. It debuts at 8 p.m. Friday on Montana PBS, and will be available for streaming starting this weekend.