Dallas singer Charley Pride, the ‘Jackie Robinson of country,’ to be honored at CMA Awards
After everything he’s been through, there’s no pandemic stopping 86-year-old Charley Pride from winning the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award in person on Wednesday night at the Country Music Association Awards.
The Dallas-based singer – nicknamed the “Jackie Robinson of country music” for breaking the genre’s color line during the civil rights era – will pick up the trophy and perform in a smaller, socially distant version of the Nashville CMAs. In a statement, Pride said he was “honored and proud” to receive the award.
Instead of staging the show in front of a large audience in the Bridgestone Arena, the usual venue, organizers scaled it down and moved it to the Music City Center’s convention hall, where Pride and other artists sit at separate tables.
Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and singer Lee Brice dropped out of the event in the past few days after testing positive for COVID-19. CMA officials released a statement saying that these cancellations “reassure us that our protocols are working. We carried out our testing process extremely carefully. Every single person has been tested, and many will be tested repeatedly over the course of the week. “
Pride is the sixth artist to win the Lifetime Achievement Award since its inception in 2012. He’s in good company with Nelson, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, and Kenny Rogers. He has won multiple CMA awards, including Entertainer of the Year 1971, the first and only time that a black artist has taken this trophy home.
“Charley Pride is the epitome of a trailblazer,” said Sarah Trahern, CEO of CMA, in a statement. “Few other artists have expanded the rich heritage of country music and brought it to the global development of country music like Charley.”
Pride was born in Sledge, Miss., In 1934 and began singing as a child. But his first true love was baseball.
He joined the Negro Leagues in the 1950s and even tried it out for the majors. However, when injuries broke his career, he began singing in nightclubs in the Montana area. In 1965, RCA Honcho Chet Atkins listened to his velvet baritone once and gave him a contract.
By 1966, he received a Grammy nod for “Just Between You and Me” and began a 20-year reign as one of country music’s top stars. He scored hit after hit, from reggae style “You’re My Jamaica” to “Let Me Live”, which won the 1971 Grammy for Gospel Performance.
In 1969, Pride and his wife Rozene moved from Montana to Dallas, also because it appeared to have less prejudice than other parts of the south, he told the Dallas Morning News in 2017.
“I grew up in a separate society and didn’t want my three children to submit to it. We’ve figured out what we think is the best place for the kids and also for traveling around the world, and there’s no better place for that than Dallas. “
In interviews, Pride usually downplays any racism he has felt in his career. But he admits that some people pigeonholed it as a novelty. In a 2017 interview with NPR, he recalled a Nashville music manager who said, “You look like her, but you sound like us.”
In reality, Pride’s deep, gentle voice is in a class of its own.
“The fact is, he sang it so much better than so many of the good country artists [singing] at the time, ”Dolly Parton said in I’m Just Me, a 2019 PBS documentary about Pride. That year, Ken Burns starred him prominently in the documentary miniseries Country Music.
In 1975, Pride became the first black artist to join the CMAs. On Wednesday, Darius Rucker will be the second, which makes the Pride’s Lifetime Achievement Award all the more special.
“I don’t know who’s going to present it to him, but I know I’ll be on the side of the stage and watch this with the rest of the world,” said Rucker, a lifelong fan, of the Tennessean. “I don’t think Charley is getting enough credit to this day.”