Why Charley Pride Was a Pioneer for Country Music as Well as Black Musicians

“He would sing one, and I would sing one. He would sing one, and I would sing one, And finally he said, ‘Well, I’ll be! Who would ever have thought I’m sitting here singing with a jig and don’t mind?’”

That Pride could laugh about being called what was then considered a kinder and gentler substitute for the N-word and still take it as a compliment shows us why he was able to survive and thrive as a Black man in country music at a time when Blacks may have been even less welcome in country music than in much of the United States. Armed with talent and extraordinarily thick skin, Pride, the son of a Mississippi sharecropper and the fourth of 11 children, beat the odds to become RCA Records’ best-selling artist since Elvis Presley and the third most-successful country act of the ’70s, behind Conway Twitty and Merle Haggard.

He amassed 29 No. 1 Billboard country singles between 1969 and 1983 and scored a total of 52 Top 10s, while becoming the first Black act to win a Grammy in a country category, best country vocal performance, male, for his 1971 album “Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs.” His career was a succession of firsts: the first Black artist to have a number-one country single, the first artist of any color to win the Country Music Association’s male vocalist of the year prize twice in a row (1971 and 1972), the first Black performer to win the CMA’s coveted entertainer of the year award (in 1971), and, in 2000, the first Black artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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