On This Day: Charley Pride Becomes Opry Member in 1993

by Clayton Edwards
(Photo by Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images)

It’s hard to overstate the importance or greatness of Charley Pride. On one hand, he broke a huge barrier in country music just by being part of the conversation. He paved the way for Black artists like Mickey Guyton, Jimmie Allen, and Darius Rucker. On the other hand, his discography is full of some of the best songs in country music.

Charley Pride took broke another barrier on this day twenty-eight years ago. He became a full-fledged member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was the first Black country singer to be part of the Opry. Before him, DeFord Bailey, a bluesman, was the only Black member of the Opry. Today, they are joined by Darius Rucker.

At the peak of Charley Pride’s recording career, from the mid-60s until the mid-80s, he was a hit-making machine. He took 52 songs to the top ten on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. 36 of those went all the way to the top of the charts. So, you may be wondering why it took Pride so long to become a member of the Opry.

Why Did It Take So Long for Charley Pride to Become an Opry Member?

Don’t think that the Grand Ole Opry snubbed Charley Pride for decades. That wasn’t the case. It was Pride’s decision to put off his Opry membership. In fact. he had been playing the Opry since 1967, according to an interview with Country Stars Central a few years before his passing in 2020.

Charley Pride had a spot in the Grand Ole Opry waiting on him since 1967. At that time, it didn’t make sense for him to take it, though. In those days, Pride was touring heavily. To be a member of the Opry, you have to perform twenty-six Saturdays every year. So, doing that would have hit him right in the pocket. In the interview, he said that he wasn’t making much money from his singles. He was making all of his money on the road. Hs said, “I made about a nickel a single from RCA and a hundred to two hundred dollars for a gig on the road.”

Before Charley Pride was a million-selling, chart-topping, ground-breaking country music icon, he wanted to be a pro baseball player. In fact, he played on several minor league teams over the years, hoping to break into the MLB. So, when he finally joined the Opry family, he likened it to getting the highest honor from the world of baseball. “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,” according to the official Grand Ole Opry website.