A life-sized sculpture of the late Charley Pride, the first black singer on the Grand Ole Opry stage, was unveiled on April 13, 2022, at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.
Charley Pride, who died in 2020, was known for his exceptional talent, which led to 41 No.1 songs and three Grammys.
The bronze statue joins three others on the Ryman’s Icon Walk, which was created to honor significant contributions to the venue and Nashville.
The other three artists honored with life-sized sculptures on the Icon Walk are Bill Monroe, Loretta Lynn, and Little Jimmy Dickens.
Pride was the first black artist to win the Country Music Association Award for Entertainer of the Year and the first black artist to win a CMA award for male vocalist of the year in 1972.
“He worked very hard at his craft,” Dion Pride told PEOPLE, “and he was very proud of the product he put out. He was very proud of it because of his hard work.”
Pride’s son, Dion, was present at the ceremony and said he hopes his father is remembered for his musical achievements rather than his pigmentation aspect.
The ceremony was attended by about 300 friends and fans, including Charley Pride’s widow, Rozene Pride, who said she was shocked in 1967 when she found out that her husband would break the Opry’s color barrier.
She told PEOPLE, “I was reading a press release where it said he was the first black country singer (on the Opry), and I looked up at him and said, ‘Is this true?’ And he said yes.”
Dion attributes his father’s breakthrough in race relations to his extraordinary musical talent. Pride’s passion for country music was so strong that he was one of the first to fuse both black and white folk music traditions and create amazing music people loved.
According to Billboard, Colin Reed, Ryman Hospitality Properties Executive Chairman, said at the unveiling, “Charley Pride broke barriers and defied stereotypes, becoming one of the most successful and beloved country music artists of all time.”
The sculpture was created by Ben Watts, an artist from Mississippi, and portrays a young Charley Pride holding his 1970 album’s guitar, the same one featured on the cover of Just Plain Charley.
The sculpture of Charley Pride is very realistic being his exact height of 6-foot-1 and the unveiling was emotional for both Rozene and Dion Pride, who approached it with deep respect and gratitude.
Charley Pride’s last appearance at the Opry was in January 2020, just 11 months prior to his death at the age of 86 due to complications from COVID.
Interestingly enough, he actually wasn’t inducted into the Opry until 1993, despite being offered membership earlier in his career. His wife said he declined it at the time due to the Opry’s appearance standards, which were changed later on.
In 2000, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and shortly before his passing, he was honored with the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award by the CMA.