50 Years Ago: Charley Pride Becomes the First African-American Singer to Perform at the Grand Ole Opry
Fifty years ago today (Jan. 7, 1967) was an historic day for country music: It was on that date that Charley Pride became the first African-American singer to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.
Pride was only the second black performer to play at the Opry, following harmonica player DeFord Bailey, who appeared at the Opry from 1927 to 1941. At the time of his Grand Ole Opry debut, Pride had just earned his first Top 10 single, "Just Between You and Me," a song from his sophomore album, The Pride of Country Music; he had been performing all over the South, but admits that he was anxious when stepping onto the hallowed stage.
“I was so nervous, I don’t know how I got through those two songs," Pride recalls. "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.”
Pride initially had dreams of being a professional baseball player before his country music career took off; in fact, he played on several minor league baseball teams in the hopes of making it to the majors. However, his acceptance in the country music community, especially at the Opry, was better than anything that he had ever wanted for himself: "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 explains.
In 1993, Pride became the first African-American singer to be invited to join the Grand Ole Opry. To this day, he is one of only two black singers who are Opry members; the other is Darius Rucker, who was inducted in 2012.
The Grand Ole Opry Through the Years