When thinking about the true trailblazers of American music, Charley Pride has to be in the conversation. As the first commercially-successful African American country singer, he arrives at No. 37 on CMT All-Time Top 40: Artist’s Choice .
One by one, the countdown of influential artists is revealed each week on CMT Hot 20 Countdown , starting with No. 40 and concluding with No. 1 in December.
Each influential musician or band is ranked based on an artist poll conducted by CMT among the biggest stars in country music. The ballot isn’t limited to just country artists, so over the course of 2014, CMT All-Time Top 40 will highlight artists from all genres that influence country’s biggest names.
Darius Rucker, Brenda Lee and Bobby Bare are among the admirers of Pride, the man who won over skeptical audiences with more than two dozen No. 1 country hits, including “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me”), “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” and “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’.”
“He’s one of the all-time greats,” Rucker said. “His voice was just unmistakable, and when you heard a Charley Pride song you were just blown away. … I remember being a kid, and Charley Pride was talked about so much in my house because he was that pioneer that was doing something that nobody else was doing. And I think, for me, that was always something I wanted to do.
“I never wanted to do what I was supposed to do or what I was told I was supposed to do. I wanted to do something special and something different, and I think a lot of that came from seeing Charley Pride as a kid and seeing him as the only black face in the room. … You just didn’t see that back then. And he was just such a great artist and such a singer and a great man. I love Charley.”
A legend in her own right, Lee said it took a special person to do what Pride did.
“I think he’s the legend that he is because, first of all, he sings great,” said Lee, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Second of all, he’s like Elvis — a very humble-type guy from roots that were not rich … from a very poor background and appreciated everything that he ever got. He was very good to the people around him, no matter what station in life they were.
“He broke down a lot of doors and opened a lot of doors for entertainers, and he was just good,” Lee continued. “And I think when you’re good, everything else doesn’t matter. I think that’s what the audience expects and what they’re looking for. And like I always say, ‘You can’t fool that audience. They know.’ If you try to, it makes them mad. So I think they accepted him because he was good, and then … they grew to love him as a human being.”
For Bare, it all came down to Pride’s genuine nature.
“Charley Pride was — and still is — a great country singer,” he said. “And his records were great country records. He had two or three hits before people knew that he was black. And then they didn’t mind it because they knew that he was the real deal, not some R&B singer trying to cut a country record.”
Tune in to CMT Hot 20 Countdown each week to check out others on the list of CMT All-Time Top 40: Artist’s Choice. The new episode airs Saturday and Sunday (April 5-6) at 11 a.m. ET/PT.