By Sarah Rodman
February 22, 2019 at 05:03 PM EST
Michael Putland/Getty Images

At 84, Charley Pride is still recording new music and entertaining fans around the world at concerts chock full of some of his 36 No. 1 hits, including “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” “Just Between You and Me,” “(Is Anybody Going to) San Antone?,” and “Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger?”

The three-time Grammy winner and Country Music Hall of Fame inductee is the latest to get the American Masters treatment from PBS. Charley Pride: I’m Just Me premieres Feb. 22 at 9 p.m. ET. Pride met with reporters at the winter edition of the Television Critics Association press tour recently and then sat down with EW to discuss his pre-music baseball career, his hopes for a biopic, and a planned duets album.

Charley Pride admits that he was resistant at first to being a subject for the American Masters documentary series. But now, he says with typical modesty, “I’ve seen it twice. I think [the producers] did a good job. Most people think it was okay, so I guess it’s okay, too.”

For fans of classic country music, it is more than okay. Narrated by Tanya Tucker and featuring commentary from peers and those for whom he blazed a trail — including Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Brad Paisley, and Darius Rucker — the film contains eye-opening information from the time Pride got a smooch onstage from Nelson to his diagnosis early on of bipolar disorder. It traces Pride’s journey from picking cotton as a sharecropper’s son in Mississippi to his days as a Negro Baseball League all star, to a stint in Montana as a smelter by day and singer by night, and eventually, his trek to Nashville to become the genre’s first African-American star.

On how it feels to have this spotlight put on his career

“I really don’t think about it that much. My thing was that I was going to go to the Major Leagues and break all of the records that had been set by the time I was 35 or 36 years old. That was what I was going to do and make my mark in this world. I had no idea about my dad buying this Philco radio, and we listened to Grand Ole Opry 275 miles away…. I listened to all kinds of music, but I settled on emulating all of the Ernest Tubb and Roy Acuff [records] and all of the biggies back then…. I went into the studio, and I did a demo. And after that, my producer Jack Clement says, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to go into the studio and make the best records I can make, go out on stage and do them the best I can.’”

On missing out on the big leagues

“I never took the position of being regretful that I didn’t make it. I was good. I did the best I could do. And this is what my life was supposed to be. I’ve accepted that I’m where I’m supposed to be in my life at this very moment.”

On his Oscar aspirations

“My ultimate want is a movie about my life. Because every movie that they’ve done about a country artist, an Oscar came of it. Sissy Spacek for Loretta [Lynn]. Of course, they had Jamie Foxx for Ray Charles and Reese Witherspoon [for June Carter Cash in Walk the Line]. Mine was all ready to go in 2008. And they had the producers, directors, everything. Terrence Howard [of Empire] was going to play me. [It didn’t happen because] they had some internal things going on at Paramount. Now, we’re working with a [producer] that was involved with A Time To Kill with Samuel Jackson, and a guy that’s now involved with A Star Is Born. So, we’re trying to make sure we get it off the ground.”

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On his planned duets album

“We’re going to have to go do some more touching up to it. But Tanya, she’s already got her [song done]. I’ve got Vince Gill, and the Oak Ridge Boys. That’s three. But whoever wants to do it with me. That’s what we’re after. We’re trying to find who is receptive to being on the album. So we’re going to try to get that done in the next month or so.”

On his upcoming tour of Australia

“It’s gratifying as heck. I’ve been what I’ve been all my life. I’m a traditional country singer. I sell lyrics, feelings, and emotions, and I do a good job of it. It’s a refreshing and good feeling to look back and see what’s been accepted of what I’ve done. You just marvel at it. It just makes me feel good.”

On whether he feels that younger country artists see him as an influence

“Well, I hope so. If they don’t, that’s not going to put me in the soup lines. I’ll take whatever the way they take it.”

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