CMT pays tribute to Charley Pride this week with a word that seldom few country singers can claim — “Giant.”
The station debuts “CMT Giants: Charley Pride” Wednesday night, an all-star celebration of the late trailblazer that features performances, stories, archived footage and more in saluting Pride’s five-plus decades of country music influence.
The show — filmed earlier this year at Ascend Amphitheater — features Garth Brooks, Darius Rucker, Jimmie Allen, Lee Ann Womack, George Strait, Gladys Knight, Robert Randolph and more singing for the rich-voiced sharecropper’s son from Sledge, Mississippi, who conquered racial barriers in a format that never before embraced a Black superstar.
Pride died last December of COVID-19 complications. He was 86.
Seeing a slate of stars crossing genre and generations unite for the special speaks to what Pride meant to so many in music, his son Dion Pride told The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network.
“It was overwhelming, the lineup, the people that come out to pay respects to him and our family,” Dion Pride said. “That’s all I can say. I don’t know you can put words to how strong a feeling is to have the King (Strait), Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Darius.
“When would you see that kind of lineup? Let alone at one special. It’s a constant reminder … of the friendships and relationships that he forged and developed.”
“CMT Giants: Charley Pride” airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. CST on CMT. Read on for a few highlight viewers can expect to see during the show.
He’s just Charley
Mickey Guyton kicked off the show with a rendition of “I’m Just Me,” bringing her towering voice to a 1971 single where Pride sang to audiences that “I was just born to be exactly what you see today, and every day I’m just me.”
She performed the song backed by a full country band — including a taste of steel guitar, upright bass and string trio — as Pride’s name flashed across the tiered stage in purple letters.
Guyton, a groundbreaking Black woman in modern country music, praised Pride for “always just being you.”
“Charley Pride impacts almost every space I occupy as an artist and as a person,” Guyton said. “The maturity and self-assurance that defined how he and his family lived their lives allowed Charley to change the face of country music by merely being himself.”
And Guyton wouldn’t be alone in singing Pride’s praises throughout the night. Jimmie Allen, Wynona Judd, baseball great Nolan Ryan, Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson and more joined the lineup, either to sing or share a word for the late Country Music Hall of Famer.
Gladys Knight — who noted her and Pride were both “hard-working children of the South” — offered a rendition of “Roll On Mississippi” in a salute where she drew parallels to their respective impact.
“We went on to sale millions of records, thank God, and toured the world,” Knight said. “But deeper than that, we both worked hard. With the awareness that every step we took anywhere was a step that was larger than us. That set the table for those that would follow. … allowed not just Black, but all musicians to continue to benefit from our work.”
A family moment
Dion Pride, a longtime touring musician and support artist for his father, played a country-rock take on his 1981 hit “Mountain of Love.”
His father often closed a set with “Mountain of Love,” Dion Pride said. Throughout time, it became less about love loss and took on a meaning of connection between the lauded singer and his listeners.
“The crowd was on their feet, they’d be clapping with him,” Dion Pride told The Tennessean. “The song became more about the reciprocation between him and the audience and ending the show on such a high note.
“‘Mountain of Love’ just became one of my favorite songs of his, period. That’s why I chose it, from touring with him.”
Luke Combs, Reyna Roberts and Robert Randolph’s rendition
“Kiss An Angel Morning,” a defining hit from Pride’s career that crossed into pop success and can still be heard inside some honky-tonk bars, went to country superstar Luke Combs, ace gospel-steel player Robert Randolph and fast-rising Nashville singer Renya Roberts.
Combs took lead on vocals; Randolph added his steel touch and Roberts played piano, adding a fervid vocal to the chorus.
“Discovering Charley Pride unlocks the magic of why the great country songs last forever,” Combs said. “If you’ve ever been in a room, at a party of sittin’ in a bar when this song plays, though you may not know it — you’re continuing to spread the power of his legacy just by singing along.”
Garth Brooks closes CMT special
The night closed with Garth Brooks singing a rowdy, full band and horn-filled take on 1978’s “When I Stop Leaving (I’ll Be Gone).”
Brooks — who worked with Pride on “Where the Cross Don’t Burn,” a 2020 song that was one his last before death — described Pride as a singer who “sang songs that spoke to people’s hearts while opening their minds.”
“Charley Pride was a winner,” Brooks said later raising his hat in a salute. “There wasn’t nothing that he couldn’t do. And everything that he did do, he did very well.”