Monday night (Oct. 25), members of the music industry gathered at the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) in Nashville to honor the late country music trailblazer Charley Pride with the RIAA Lifetime Achievement Award. The honor was posthumously presented by Garth Brooks, another country music giant, in his own right.
Pride, who spent over 50 years as a recording artist, enjoyed one of the most successful years in country music and became the first Black superstar within the format.
Throughout his career, Pride sold millions of records worldwide with his expansive repertoire of hits, earning three Grammy awards. He was the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year in 1971 and the Top Male Vocalist of 1971 and 1972. Pride also received the Crossroads of American Music Award At the 2019 Grammy Museum Mississippi Gala in November of 2019, and the Country Music Association’s Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award one year later in November 2020 before his death on Dec. 12.
Jackie Jones, VP of Artist & Industry Relations at RIAA, kicked off the night to welcome the intimate crowd, as well as introduce the President & CEO of NMAAM, H. Beecher Hicks, III.
“When this museum was conceived, it was really for moments just like this,” Hicks explained. “[It was created] to honor incredible artists just like Charley Pride, to bridge generations, and connect people and communities. The NMAAM provides a platform for discussions like these and a place for anyone—from a local songwriter to a towering global superstar—to reflect on the music and the artists that have shaped our lives, our culture, and our nation.”
RIAA Chairman & CEO Mitch Glazier took the stage to share his thanks to the Pride family, the museum, and to Brooks, who Glazier explained came up with the idea for the night’s festivities to celebrate Pride, his friend of 25 years.
Joining Brooks for an enlightening Q&A was a fellow, celebrated music trailblazer, Alice Randall. Now a professor in Vanderbilt University’s Department of African-American and Diaspora Studies, Randall was one of the first Black women to co-write a country hit (“XXX’s And OOO’s” recorded by Trisha Yearwood) and has gone on to co-write more than twenty other recorded songs. She has published extensively on Black artists in country music and teaches courses on The Country Lyric in American Culture and Black Country.
Together, Brooks and Randall took time to discuss the legacy of Charley Pride in country music and in American music at large, the influence that Pride had on Brooks’ music, Pride’s last recording with Brooks, and more.
Pride’s first single, “The Snakes Crawl At Night,” was released in 1966, and his first No. 1 came three years later with “All I Have To Offer You Is Me.” When asked about his favorite Pride single, Brooks was unable to name just one, listing off hits like “Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone” and “Mountain of Love,” breaking out his guitar to sing a snippet of each.
“I hear Charley Pride in Garth Brooks music so much… His influence on me was probably greater than I thought,” Brooks shared. “He was a big influence on my mom too. Her favorite song was ‘Kiss An Angel Good Morning,'” to which he also gave a preview of.
As Brooks was first coming onto the music scene in 1989 with “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),” Pride was closing on his first quarter of a century in country music. Pride’s influence on Brooks was undeniable as Brooks said he couldn’t remember the radio without Pride on it, becoming an integral part of his childhood.
“When you talk about influences and what his music means to people, for me it’s that he never seemed like he doubted himself when he stepped up to the mic, so therefore he sold it to me, my mom, and to a lot of other people. The RIAA number of records he sold would prove that,” Brooks said with a laugh. “That was something you learned as a kid before you got into the business, like ‘Son, if you’re gonna do this, don’t leave any of you out. Let’s bring everything you’ve got.’ That’s what [Charley] specialized in,” Brooks explained.
“[Charley Pride] was a freak of nature. He was gifted beyond belief and was so humble about his gifts,” he added. “It’s easy to stay humble in this business when you know that if Charley Pride had sang ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes,’ it would’ve been a bigger song… It’s really sweet to get to hang around guys that cheered you on and actually wanted you to do better than them. [Charley] sincerely wanted you to do better than he did.”
A similarity shared between the two larger-than-life entertainers is their love for baseball. Both men played in various leagues and on various teams throughout their years, with Pride actually going on to become one of the owners of the Texas Rangers. Whether through music or through sports, Pride played a central role in American life and in bringing people together.
“The new word that people are using right now is ‘unifier.’ Charley Pride was a unifier before unifiers were even thought of,” Brooks offered.
“We’re so divided. You can use a word and half the people will love it and half the people won’t like it. How in the world when you use the word ‘America’ do half of the people [groan]?” He continued, “He was what we all want to be and what we all want to stand for. One of the greatest American icons that I can think of would be [Charley Pride].”
Shortly before Pride’s death in December of 2020, he and Brooks recorded “Where The Cross Don’t Burn,” which became the last song Pride recorded. Penned by the late songwriters Troy Jones and Phil Thomas, the track tells the story of a friendship between a young white boy and an older Black man during segregation.
Featured on his 2020 album, Fun, Brooks had been holding on to the song for ten years hoping to eventually collaborate with Pride.
“What I love about that song is that it starts out as a white boy and a Black, old man, but by the time you get to the end it’s just a young boy and a kind, old man. It’s the evolution or progression of love,” Brooks elaborated. “Love gets you past the differences and focuses on what you have in common.”
He concluded, “The best way that all of us can take Charley Pride’s name forward is to love one another. That was his thing… When you talk about the future of country music, I want the country artists of the future to be sincere in loving country music. I don’t care if they’re white, Black, transgender, or what their religion is. I want people who love country music like [Charley Pride] did.
“It didn’t matter that Charley Pride was Black, but it mattered so much that Charley Pride was Black,” he summed. “When it shouldn’t have mattered, it didn’t. When it should’ve mattered, he was the most proud of that.”
Before the plaque presentation, RIAA COO Michele Ballantyne shared a list of Pride’s record of achievements, including being the first Black artist to win the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year award and a Grammy in the country genre; being one of six country music giants to win a CMA Lifetime Achievement Award, alongside Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Kenny Rogers, and Willie Nelson; and earning 29 No. 1 hits on Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart and over 70 million records sold, giving him 11 Gold albums and 1 Gold-certified single for “Kiss An Angel Good Morning.”
Charley’s son, Dion Pride, accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award on his family’s behalf saying, “We’re all very, very proud of my father’s accomplishments… all of his accomplishments are a byproduct of the sheer love that he had for country music.”
Dion continued, “As a son, I am more impressed with the man. My father was a great, great man. All of his values, all of his principles, will live through me.”
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