September 23, 2019  (Web Review)

Charley Pride: I’m Just Me

(2019) 80 min. DVD: $24.99 ($54.99 w/PPR). PBS Video (www.education.shop.pbs.org). SDH captioned. ISBN: 978-1-5317-0943-3.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Charley Pride was raised in a poor sharecropper’s family in Sledge, MI, picking cotton and performing backbreaking labor. Determined to escape that life, he set his sights on a baseball career, while also listening to the Grand Ole Opry program on the radio, singing and playing along with a Sears Roebuck guitar. Filmmaker Barbara Hall’s PBS-aired American Masters documentary presents an unlikely all-American rags-to-riches tale of an African American who overcame barriers, ultimately scoring over 50 top 10 hits on the country-western music charts (“Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’” being the best-known). Baseball was still mostly segregated in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, so Pride played barnstorming ball in the Negro Leagues, waiting for his big break. In his spare time, Pride landed some gigs performing the country music he grew up loving as a child, even though it was almost unheard of for a black man to perform country tunes to “good ol’ boy” audiences. Despite a natural athletic ability, Pride became stuck in his baseball career and, following a stint in the Army, he escaped the segregated South by moving to Montana, where he worked in a smelting plant while continuing to sing and make a few recordings. Producers hedged their bets by avoiding publicity photos, but no one who heard him could doubt his country bona fides. Moving his wife and family to Nashville, Pride met popular singers like Faron Young, and he displayed a shrewdness for business moves, as well as a tireless work ethic—traveling by planes (not by tour bus) and even playing international dates. Despite being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and suffering bouts of paranoia, doubts, and confusion, his career has lasted for over 50 years. With tributes from Dolly Parton, Marty Stuart, and Garth Brooks, as well as Pride telling much of his own story, the film only lacks scenes of Pride performing (possibly due to copyright restrictions). Extras include bonus featurettes. Recommended. Aud: C, P. (S. Rees)