Ryman Auditorium unveiled the latest addition to its Icon Walk this morning with a statue honoring American music icon Charley Pride. The detailed bronze likeness was added to the permanent outdoor exhibition on the historic venue’s grounds ensuring the country music trailblazer will forever remain part of the Soul of Nashville.
Pride's beloved wife of over 60 years Rozene Pride and Charley's son Dion Pride were in attendance for the unveiling.
“He has often been called the Jackie Robinson of country music,” Rozene shared with the crowd gathered for the statue unveiling. “The only difference was Jackie Robinson was picked for the role. Pride picked country music because he loved it and that was his life.”
Addressing the large group of fans in attendance Dion added, “He loved his fans – in fact, his fans drove him. All of you drove him. You are the reason why he was the success he was. Everything he did was for you.”
The Ryman team collaborated once again with artist Ben Watts, the talent behind the existing three statues for the tribute to Pride which took a year to create.
"Charley Pride broke barriers and defied stereotypes, becoming one of the most successful and beloved country music artists of all time,” said Ryman Hospitality Properties Executive Chairman Colin Reed. “The Ryman Icon Walk honors not only his contributions and the groundwork he laid for countless other artists in country music, but also to the Ryman, where he performed many times throughout his career. Charley’s influence will always be felt throughout the entire Nashville community, and his addition to the Ryman Icon Walk is our way of paying tribute to his incredible talent and enduring legacy."
I told Dion and Rozene Pride that when I began to discover country music 20 years that path would eventually lead me to discover Charley Pride. I was fortunate enough to see him play at the Wildhorse Saloon with Darius Rucker and he impacted me then. And he was an integral part of Ken Burn’s History of County Music series on PBS.
I asked Mrs. Rozene if she knew her husband was going to become a country music singer. She told me, “I said to him early in our marriage, ‘I said I don't think you could make it as a baseball player but I think you could make it as a singer.’ I made it as a compliment but he took it as a slap in the face.”
Multi-instrumentalist Dion Pride is keeping his father’s memory alive by following in his footsteps and showcasing Charley’s iconic music while singing original tunes. He fondly said of his father, “I never had to go past the front door when looking for a role model.”
He continued, “I'm proud to be able to carry on his legacy. I'm very proud to be able to do that and keep his music alive.”
Dion’s advice to emerging artists is simple, Learn from people like his father and others country music pioneers. “He would be the perfect person to study because he embodies everything that a country artist is as far as his enunciation and the clarity of his voice and the lyrics and all. So I would encourage them to study him.”
Visitors can find Pride standing at the northwest corner of the building near the venue’s driveway on Fifth Avenue next to the likeness of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” Loretta Lynn and Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass Music. Country music’s Little Jimmy Dickens stands atop the Ryman’s main steps facing Fourth Avenue, greeting every ticket holder and tour-taker as they arrive. Monroe’s likeness is flanked by a Tennessee Historical Commission marker describing the night Bluegrass Music took the stage at the Ryman for the first time in 1945.
During his 50+ years as a recording artist, Pride enjoyed one of the most successful careers in country music history and is credited with helping break color barriers by becoming the first black superstar within the genre.
A global sensation, he sold tens of millions of records worldwide with his large repertoire of hits. A three-time GRAMMY® award and Recording Academy “Lifetime Achievement Award” winner, Pride garnered 41 chart-topping country hits, including “Kiss An Angel Good Morning,” a massive No. 1 crossover hit that sold over a million singles and helped Pride land the Country Music Association’s “Entertainer of the Year” award in 1971 and the “Top Male Vocalist'' awards of 1971 and 1972.
A proud member of the Grand Ole Opry, Pride performed concerts worldwide and toured the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand over the course of his career. In recent years, he received the Crossroads Of American Music Award at the 2019 GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi Gala and the Country Music Association’s Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award one year later in November 2020.
On December 12, 2020, Pride died at the age of 86 from complications due to COVID-19. In 2021, CMT celebrated his life and impact as a musical pioneer with CMT Giants: Charley Pride. His memory and storied legacy continue to live on through his vast library of stories and songs, with forthcoming plans for several posthumous projects.
If you would like to watch the unveiling of Charley Pride statue, it can be found here.
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Bethany Bowman is a freelance entertainment writer. You can follow her blog, Bethany Writes, Instagram, and Twitter.