In 1971, Charley Pride stepped onto the CMA Awards stage to accept the Entertainer of the Year trophy — the first Black artist to do so. Nearly five decades later, at Wednesday night’s (Nov. 11) 2020 CMA Awards show, the pioneering country artist returned to the stage once again, when he was awarded the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his lifelong contributions to country music and the ways in which he broke ground in the genre, particularly for Black country artists.
It was doubtless a powerful moment for many watching from home, but for Jimmie Allen, who presented Pride with his new trophy and dedicated a performance to the legend during the show, getting the chance to honor Pride was a massive, full-circle moment.
When the two artists joined press backstage in a virtual media room, Allen said that honoring Pride on Wednesday night reminded him of the time that he attended the CMA Awards as a fan.
“I remember four years ago, before I got a record deal or anything, I spent my last $100 to come see Mr. Pride play at the 50th CMA Awards,” Allen recalled. “So, four years later, to be able to present him with an award and stand here next to him, and to have a song with him …
“Imagine one of the biggest dreams you have, and accomplishing that. That happened for me tonight,” Allen continued, pausing to let the impact of the night’s events sink in.
Allen says that when he was a young country fan, it was Pride’s presence in the genre that made him believe he could pursue country music as a Black artist — that there was a spot for him available at the country table.
“It’s just such a privilege to be with the guy that was so important in my life, in making me feel comfortable with chasing this country music dream,” he continued. “Knowing that, ‘You know what? There’s somebody that looks like me that did it, and sold 70 million records.'”
Standing beside Allen and listening to the younger singer’s reflections, Pride assumed an “aw, shucks” grin. “You can do my talking from now on,” he said.
Pride also noted that a personal highlight of Wednesday night’s awards show was being in the same room as his longtime friends and peers Johnny Lee and Mickey Gilley, who were at the 2020 CMAs watching Old Dominion perform “Looking for Love” as a tribute to the 40th anniversary of the movie Urban Cowboy. But meeting the next generation of stars, including Allen, was a big part of his evening, too.
“I met this guy,” he said, jutting his thumb at the younger performer. “You talk about sharp — this is a sharp guy! When I was his age, I wasn’t that sharp.”
“I stole it from you,” Allen quietly responded.