Charleston's own Darius Rucker takes new artist honors at CMA awards

Country singer Darius Rucker poses for pictures in the press room after winning the Best New Artist award, during the 43rd Annual Country Music Awards in Nashville, Tenn. Wednesday.

Country Music Association members may have voted Taylor Swift as entertainer of the year, but Charleston’s own Darius Rucker became the second black performer to win a major individual award when he took the new artist title at the awards ceremony Wednesday night.

He joined Charley Pride, who took entertainer of the year in 1971 and male vocalist in 1971-72.

Rucker made the crossover to country this past year, reviving his career and carving out a new sound for himself. The album skyrocketed as soon as it was released.

“Making this record, I never thought about being an African-American guy making a country record,” said Rucker, whose “Learning to Live” sold 1 million copies this year. “I just thought I was a guy making a country record until my first song went top 20 and people started talking about it. I’m proud of that, I’m proud of being that guy who has taken up where Charley Pride left off.”

Rucker was just a young boy with a love for “Hee Haw” and FM radio when he made a discovery, and a decision, that would shape the rest of his life.

He already had broken down doors as a black soft-rock star with Hootie & the Blowfish in the mid-1990s, and he took a supremely sloppy, crowd-hugging run through his hit “Alright,” Wednesday, and then gave the most ecstatic speech of the night as best new artist — he’s the first African-American to win in that category.

Both milestones are receiving a lot of attention, and Rucker enjoys the comparisons.

“You can’t help but smile when someone mentions your name in the same sentence as Charley Pride,” Rucker said.

It’s been nearly 40 years since Pride, the best-selling African-American performer in country music, won entertainer of the year in 1971 and male vocalist of the year in 1971-72, a feat not since repeated by a black artist.