“All my fans, I want to say thank you,” he said. “Well, I’m through talking. I just want to thank everybody again. Like I said, I’m nervous.”
Before presenting the award, Allen performed his song “Best Shot.”
“Watching Charley Pride be so excited and real on the #CMAawards was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while. Absolute legend,” tweeted Chase Rice after the presentation.
Just several days ahead of the awards show, Allen, 34, shared a photo with the country icon. “Catching up with the Legend,” he tweeted. “Charley Pride at CMA Awards Rehearsal.”
And a week before, he shared a throwback photo of the 86-year-old country star with a sweet caption.
“#CharleyPride,” he tweeted. “Fearless, Inspiration, Courageous, Pioneer.”
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid to have a song with me, Darius and Charley,” Allen told PEOPLE. “For me, as a Black guy being a fan of country music, Charley Pride was ‘the guy.’ And then I grew up a huge rock fan, and Hootie and the Blowfish had a Black guy [Rucker], and it was one of the biggest rock bands of all time, and he’s now one of the biggest country artists. So it was important for me to do something with both of them, and especially Charley.”
The award — named after Willie Nelson, who received the honor in 2012 — is the most valued prize awarded by the CMA and honors some of the biggest stars in country music. Last year, Kris Kristofferson took home the award. Before then, Dolly Parton received it in 2016; the late Johnny Cash and Kenny Rogers received the awards in 2015 and 2013, respectively.
Pride made history as country music’s first Black star. His music has hit No. 1 nearly 30 times and more than 50 of his songs have been in the top 10. Some of his classics include “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin'” and “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me).”
He took home the entertainer of the year award at the 1971 CMA Awards. He also won male vocalist of the year that year and in 1972. He was the first Black man to host the CMAs in 1975.
“Charley Pride is the epitome of a trailblazer,” said CMA CEO Sarah Trahern in a press release when announcing he’d receive the award. “Few other artists have grown country music’s rich heritage and led to the advancement of Country Music around the world like Charley.”
“His distinctive voice has created a timeless legacy that continues to echo through the country community today,” she continued. “We could not be more excited to honor Charley with one of CMA’s highest accolades.”
The 54th Annual CMA Awards are airing live from Nashville on Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.