Country music lost a trailblazer on December 12th, when Charley Pride passed away due to complications from the Covid-19 virus. A pioneer for the genre, Pride emerged in a time when diversity was not welcomed, opening the door for Black country stars like Darius Rucker, Mickey Guyton and Jimmie Allen - the latter of whom proclaims he wouldn’t be an artist without Pride.
Allen first met Pride at the National Association of Music Merchants expo two years ago, forming a friendship that culminated in what would be Pride’s last performance at the 2020 Country Music Association Awards in November. The two teamed up for Pride’s 1971 classic 'Kiss An Angel Good Mornin'' which happened to be the first Charley Pride song Allen heard when he was a teenager. Little did teenage Jimmie know, his hero would end up becoming like a grandfather to him.
The day after Pride’s passing, Allen shared a 15-minute video homage on Instagram, detailing what the icon meant to him because, as he tells Holler, “I felt like I had more to say than a picture with a caption.” Below, Allen continues his ode to Pride with some of his favorite memories and lessons learned from the late legend.
When did you first discover Charley?
I was with my dad in his truck talking about music, I think I was about 13. He had heard conversations I’d had with friends about country music, being like, “I don’t know if I can really do it,” because I didn’t know of anybody that looked like me. It wasn’t really about race, it was about representation. So my dad felt like it was important for me to know who Charley Pride was.
Seeing the color of his skin, and the way that he was accepted in country music - in a time when they were still publicly hanging Black people in America - that was the clicker for me. When I saw Charley do it, I was like, “Let’s do this thing.” He made me feel welcome.
You called Charley the “Superman of country music” in your Instagram tribute -- is that how you’ve always referred to him?
He was my Superman. Everybody has a hero, but I thought he was Superman because he had to have skin of steel to deal with the names he was called. He was able to fly through all the turbulence he had to deal with in his life to chase his dream.
How did Charley’s approach to race inspire you in your own artistry, or even life in general?
He had a bunch of options for how he could’ve responded to people calling him names, but he chose to attack it through success. You go back to some Charley Pride interviews, and he talks about things without talking about things. It’s about changing hearts. It’s not about changing things publicly, it’s about changing what you say at home. We’re definitely seeing change. Change in the way women are treated, the way people with different sexual orientations are treated, the way Black people are treated. We’re moving in the right direction. It feels good that Charley got to see it.
It was cool to hear you talk about his investment in today’s Black country artists in your video.
He told me at the CMA rehearsals, “Jimmie, I really want to meet Kane Brown.” My plan was to set it up for the next time he came to Nashville. But the fact that he knew Kane Brown, Willie Jones, Coffey Anderson, Neal McCoy, Cowboy Troy, Yola - I’m glad he got to see the long line of artists that wouldn’t be here without him.
His last performance, I was on stage with him, and Darius was co-hosting. He saw that. He got it. He felt it. He realized me and Darius were part of this award show because of him. And he was humble about it. It was like a proud parent seeing their child walk for the first time. Our performance and rehearsals, he kept winking at me. Him telling me he was proud of me, proud of Darius, Kane, Mickey. You can’t top that. It felt like twelve disciples waiting for Jesus’ approval. He gave it to us.
Was that CMAs performance the most full-circle thing you’ve ever experienced, considering four years ago you spent your last $100 to see Charley at the CMAs?
The most. That is the highlight of my career. I don’t think anything will top that. If I had to choose winning Grammys, CMAs, ACMs and never performing with Charley Pride, or performing with Charley Pride and never winning an award, I’m cool with that. Not saying that awards don’t mean anything, but I got to perform with the guy that changed my life. You can’t replace that with anything.
How do you remember feeling when you were walking up to introduce yourself when you first met Charley?
I was nervous as hell! You know how you go over your lines of what you’re going to say to somebody? I had practiced in the car ride over: “Charley! What’s up?” “Mr. Pride, how ya doin’?” “Whaddup bro?” I had to get my lines right. But I walked in and was like, “How ya doin’ sir, my name is Jimmie Allen, huge fan, love to meet you.” And then we sat down and just started talking.
How did your relationship progress after that?
After I met him at NAMM, I saw him again at my Grand Ole Opry debut (in September 2018), because they were also celebrating his Opry anniversary that night. He gave me his phone number, and I blew him up. I would call him a couple times a month and just talk about life. I heard so many stories of the shows he’s played and the artists that took him under his wing. It’s like when you sit and talk to your grandfather. And I’m just glad I got to do it.
You mentioned that he finished each conversation with a piece of advice. Is there anything he said that’s really stuck with you?
Be yourself, never be ashamed to be who you are. Make music you love for the people that love you. That right there was all I needed to hear. A lot of times, artists overthink it. If you make the music you love, it’ll land on the ears and hearts of the people who are supposed to hear it. That clicked. Ever since, I really got the confidence to just kind of fall in my groove of what I do.
Do you have a favorite memory with him?
When he kept trying to teach me baseball tricks. I’m like, “Bro, I’m not playing baseball!” [Laughs] He kept saying, “Well maybe if I would’ve taught you earlier, you would’ve gone pro.” Just how much he loved his wife, loved his kids. How much he loved country music. This guy loved country music. He loved country music so much that he endured everything he went through just to do country music. People quit for a lot less.
When I found out he died, I was kayak fishing and I just stopped. I sat in the kayak for at least 35 minutes doing nothing, just thinking about his life and the fact that I got to know him. He lived a great life, and I’m honored I got to be a part of it.
Future plans for a public celebration of life memorial ceremony for Charley Pride are to be announced at a later date.In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to The Pride Scholarship at Jesuit College Preparatory School, St. Phillips School and Community center, any local food bank, or the charity of your choice.
Photography by Dustin Haney.