By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — At 86, Charley Pride’s days as a major country hitmaker are behind him. But his groundbreaking achievements remain among the most historic and important in any field of music. Among many other firsts, Pride was the first Black artist to win the Country Music Association’s (CMA) Entertainer of the Year award. Now he has been honored by another Black artist who’s been able to benefit from the path that Pride forged.
Darius Rucker. who served as co-host of this year’s CMA awards, formally presented Pride with the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award on the Wednesday night broadcast that aired on WKRN-2. Rucker, who made the transition to country after initially coming to fame as lead vocalist with Hootie & the Blowfish, spoke Sunday night on Rissi Palmer’s radio program “Color Me Country” about some of his experiences dealing with racism, as well as the impact of Charley Pride on his career.
“I remember saying to myself, ‘You can put up with whatever happens here because whatever happens to you is not going to be 1/10th, 1/100th of what Charley Pride went through,’” Rucker said. “I remember having a Charley Pride record in my mom’s collection that I don’t think my mom ever put on, but she bought that record because he was a Black man singing country music,” Rucker added, saying he remembered watching Pride perform on “Hee Haw.”
“It’s truly surreal because I’ve listened to Charley Pride since I was a kid,” Rucker continued. “When I was a little kid in the early ‘70s and Charley’s making these records, I remember having a Charley Pride record in my mom’s collection that I don’t think my mom ever put on, but she bought that record because he was a Black man singing country music.”
Pride played Negro League baseball and served in the United States Army before rising to fame in the ‘60s. He’s the sixth artist to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award following Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson. He is a Grand Ole Opry, Country Music Hall of Fame member and Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
“Charley Pride is the epitome of a trailblazer,” CMA CEO Sarah Trahern said. “Few other artists have grown country music’s rich heritage and led to the advancement of country music around the world like Charley. His distinctive voice has created a timeless legacy that continues to echo through the country community today.”
Pride earned Entertainer of the Year in 1971, the same year he won his first of two CMA Male Vocalist of the Year trophies (the other came one year later, in 1972). Pride co-hosted the ceremony in 1975, with Glen Campbell.