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“Black People Don’t Belong in Country Music…” 


by Glenn Shepard
October 25, 2016
Category: The Epic Achievers Series



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Gold record
A very special birthday surprise from my Beautiful Bride


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In the 10/11/16 issue of this newsletter, I mentioned the musical history of a Nashville house we’re closing on next week.

But I didn’t tell you the whole story, and it needs to be told.

The house was built by songwriter Ben Peters. He penned fourteen #1 hits, but one in particular helped change the world. It was the 1971 song “Kiss an Angel Good Morning”, which was Charlie Pride’s biggest hit.

Nearly every country music lover has heard at least a one of Charlie’s 29 Number One hits, but few know the incredible prejudice he had to overcome to succeed.

Born into poverty in Mississippi during the Great Depression, he was one of 11 children. He was a high school dropout, and baseball was his way out. But African Americans were rare in the major leagues in those days, so he signed with the Negro American League. While playing for the Louisville Clippers, he and another player were traded to the Birmingham Black Barons for a team bus.

He eventually landed in Helena, Montana, where he worked at a lead smelting plant unloading coal from railroad cars and shoveling it into a furnace. The job was so dangerous that he was regularly burned and once even broke his ankle. But it paid the bills and allowed him to play baseball at night with a local team, which paid him $10 per game.

After his singing talent became evident, the team started paying him another $10 to sing at each game.

In 1958, he visited Sun Studio in Memphis, where he recorded several songs. When the legendary Chet Atkins heard the tapes, he got Charlie signed to RCA.

When RCA released his first single in 1966, they didn’t use publicity photos because they were afraid radio stations in the south wouldn’t play it if they knew he was African-American. George Swift, who was a DJ in Selma, AL at the time, told me people cussed him out for playing Charlie’s songs and told him “Black people don’t belong in country music!”

After the mega-success of “Kiss an Angel Good Morning”, Charlie won the coveted CMA Entertainer of the Year Award in 1971, and Top Male Vocalist in 1971 and 1972.

Ben passed away in 2005. But his writing, along with Charlie’s singing talent, helped pave the way for Darius Rucker (formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish) to cross over from pop to country music in 2008.

The pen is mightier than the sword. And in this case, it was even more powerful than prejudice.

Charlie got the last laugh – both in music and baseball. In 2003, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. And he’s now part owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team.

To Your Success,

After visiting the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame on my birthday last week and seeing a picture of Ben in his writing room in our soon-to-be new home, my beautiful bride blindfolded me and said “Now I have a very special birthday present for you”. She drove us to the house and presented me with a gold record of “Kiss an Angel Good Morning”, which she found on eBay. When we move in, it will be the first item that goes inside.

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