If looking for a reason to watch CMT’s just-debuted — and latest — edition of the Giants series honoring groundbreaking African-American country music icon Charley Pride, consider the idea that it represents the definitive moment of Black country artists finally starting to truly close the genre’s iconic unbroken circle. At a time when the world feels dark and stalled for many, this docu-special represents a rare moment of bright, incredible evolution.
There was a moment after the August 17 premiere of CMT’s
Giants: Charley Pride wherein, for the first time, the country icon’s son — and event performer — Dion Pride stood in a literal perfect circle with three-time Grammy-winning artist Shannon Sanders, Black Country Music Association co-founder Frankie Staton, and Nashville Music Equality’s Vice President Gina Miller. As well, present in the same room was Sacha, a member of CMT’s 2021 Next Women of Country class. If needing physical evidence that the metaphorically unbroken circle that The Carter Family sang about a century ago creates magical moments that have incredible ramifications, it was here.
But that’s not it. Sometimes, a TV special is not just a TV special.
Over a five-decade career, Charley Pride — as a single artist, but as undeterred as he was alone — sang 52 top-ten Billboard hits to earn a deserved seat in country music’s most vaunted circle. Moreover, the fact that Pride (or “Superman” as Jimmie Allen calls his mentor in the special) survived ignorance-addled prejudice and astoundingly worked twice as hard to actually achieve greater success than many who directly aggrieved him — to sit, unmoved in that circle — is amazing.
However, Mr. Pride has died. George Floyd has died, too. At present, 633,000 American lives have also been claimed by the coronavirus pandemic. Thus, the idea that it took a series of catastrophic occurrences to galvanize country music in a way that allowed for Charley Pride’s legacy as a door-opener for his fellow Black country creatives to excel should not be lost on this moment.
In many ways, the April 2021 taping of Giants: Charley Pride started the development of African-American country music artists, growing into the idea that the seat Pride had at country music’s unbroken circle could be occupied by not just one Black country artist. Rather, African-American country artists as a unified whole — working with Pride’s legacy as a beacon guiding their own creative circle, unified — could occupy his seat.
Here’s an incredible fact to take away from behind the scenes of the creation of Giants: Charley Pride: it marked the first time that Mickey Guyton and Rissi Palmer met in person. For non-African-American country performers, meeting your heroes happens quickly and is commonplace. Before she was 29, Carly Pearce met Dolly Parton at 17. However, though Guyton and Palmer are both acclaimed country artists with decade-plus long careers and Nashville credibility, it took the memory of Charley Pride’s astounding work to bring them together. It’s a story as beautiful as it is bittersweet.
This is also a story that — because of an event like this — will likely never happen again.
Reyna Roberts — like previously -mentioned Sacha — is a member of CMT’s 2021 Next Women of Country class. She also performed “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” with Luke Combs and Robert Randolph on the special. Thus, she’s now also someone who has not had to wait for over a decade to meet Mickey Guyton and Rissi Palmer. As well it’s essential to mention that three Black women are now able to sustainably co-exist in a space that a Black man opened the door for them to struggle, then expand within. This is evidence of extraordinary and noteworthy growth for country music as a genre.
Yes, Jimmie Allen’s performance of “All I Have To Offer You (Is Me),” Gladys Knight’s take on “Roll On Mississippi,” George Strait’s cover of “Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone,” Garth Brooks’ show closer “When I Stop Leaving (I’ll Be Gone),” and in no understatement, all of the show’s performances — are great. Even greater about the event, though, is the sense that Charley Pride’s life and legacy are, with immediate impact, directly evolving country music’s bright, unified, and unbroken future.