Twenty-nine years ago today, on May 1, 1993, Charley Pride became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, 27 years after his debut on the hallowed stage. It was the second time that Opry officials had asked the artist to join the organization’s ranks.
In January of 1967, Pride became the second Black performer, and first Black singer, to appear at the Opry. (Harmonica player DeFord Bailey was the Grand Ole Opry’s first Black performer; he appeared at the Opry from 1927 to 1941.)
“I was so nervous, I don’t know how I got through those two songs,” Pride remembered. “It’s hard to remember that far back because it’s been a while, but I remember how nervous I was — that, I can tell you. It was something.”
Soon after Pride’s first Opry performance, he was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry — but he politely declined in light of his touring and the Opry’s performance requirements.
“I had a standing invitation to join the Opry since 1967, but they had a requirement that you had to play 26 Saturdays per year, and those were the best days where you could draw and make your money out on the road,” Pride recalled to Country Stars Central. “You weren’t making that much when I was starting out. I made about a nickel a single from RCA, and $100 to $200 for a gig on the road. At that time, it was an economical thing for me, and I didn’t argue with it.”
When Pride was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, Jimmy C. Newman did the honors. After almost 30 years in the music business, Pride’s induction was a long-awaited stamp of approval from the country music industry.
“It’s as if I had made it in baseball, and they came up to me and took me to Cooperstown and said, ‘This is where your plaque is going to be — beside Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron,’” Pride explained.
Pride, who died in November of 2020, found some of his closest friendships through his time at the Opry.
“Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, Eddy Arnold and Minnie Pearl are just a few of the greats I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with throughout the many years I’ve been a part of the Grand Ole Opry,” he said. “All those people were such great entertainers, and wonderful people to be around. I am very grateful to have known them. They are all greatly missed.”
To commemorate his 25th Grand Ole Opry anniversary in 2018, Pride performed extended sets at the Opry on May 4 and May 5. The Opry’s radio station, 650 AM WSM, also honored Pride with a “Country Pride Weekend,” spinning Pride’s Top 10 singles, archival programs and listener requests.
LOOK: The Grand Ole Opry Through the Years