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Featured American Artist
Virginia Patterson Hensley (September 8, 1932 – March 5, 1963), known professionally as Patsy Cline, was an American country music singer. Part of the early 1960s Nashville sound, Cline successfully "crossed over" to pop music. She died at the age of 30 in a multiple-
Cline was best known for her rich tone, emotionally expressive and bold contralto voice and her role as a country music industry pioneer. Along with Kitty Wells, she helped pave the way for women as headline performers in the genre. Cline was cited as an inspiration by singers in several genres, Books, movies, documentaries, articles and stage plays document her life and career.
Her hits began in 1957 with Donn Hecht's and Alan Block's "Walkin' After Midnight", Hank Cochran's and Harlan Howard's "I Fall to Pieces", Hank Cochran's "She's Got You", Willie Nelson's "Crazy" and ended in 1963 with Don Gibson's "Sweet Dreams".
Millions of her records have sold since her death. She won awards and accolades, leading many to view her as an icon at the level of Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Ten years after her death, in 1973, she became the first female solo artist inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1999, she was voted number 11 on VH1's special, The 100 Greatest Women in Rock and Roll, by members and artists of the rock industry. In 2002, country music artists and industry members voted her Number One on CMT's The 40 Greatest Women of Country Music and ranked 46th in the "100 Greatest Singers of All Time" issue of Rolling Stone magazine. According to her 1973 Country Music Hall of Fame plaque, "Her heritage of timeless recordings is testimony to her artistic capacity."
Cline was born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932, in Winchester, Virginia, to Hilda Patterson Hensley, a 16-
Cline's home in Winchester, Virginia. She lived here from age 16 to 21.
Cline was introduced to music at an early age, singing in church with her mother. She admired stars such as Kay Starr, Jo Stafford, Hank Williams, Judy Garland, and Shirley Temple. She had perfect pitch. She was self-
When she was thirteen, she was hospitalized with a throat infection and rheumatic fever. "The fever affected my throat and when I recovered I had this booming voice like Kate Smith".
To help support her family after her father abandoned them, she dropped out of high school and worked various jobs, often performing as a soda jerk and waitress by day at the Triangle Diner, across the street from her school, John Handley High. After several weeks of watching performers through the window at her local radio station, she asked WINC disc jockey and talent coordinator Jimmy McCoy if she could sing on his show. Her first performance on radio in 1947 was so well received that she was asked back. This led to performances at local nightclubs, wearing fringed Western stage outfits that her mother made from Patsy's designs.
Cline performed in variety and talent showcases in and around the Winchester and Tri-
She married contractor Gerald Cline on September 19, 1953 and divorced him on July 4, 1957. The dissolution of that marriage was blamed on the conflict between her desire to sing professionally and his desire that she adopt the conventional role of a housewife. This marriage produced no children.
She married linotype operator Charlie Dick on September 15, 1957. Their marriage produced two children: Julie Dick (August 25, 1958) and Randy Dick (January 22, 1961).
Four Star Records
Bill Peer, her second manager, gave her the name Patsy, from her middle name (her mother's maiden name) Patterson. In 1955 he got her a contract at Four Star Records, the label with which he was then affiliated. Four Star was under contract to the Coral subsidiary of Decca Records. Patsy signed with Decca at her first opportunity three years later
Her first contract allowed her to record compositions only by Four Star writers, which Cline found limiting. Later, she expressed regret over signing with the label, but thinking that nobody else would have her, she took the deal. Her first record for Four Star was "A Church, A Courtroom & Then Good-
Between 1955 and 1957, Cline recorded honky tonk material, with songs like "Fingerprints", "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down", "Don't Ever Leave Me Again", and "A Stranger In My Arms". Cline co-
According to Decca Records producer Owen Bradley, the Four Star compositions only hinted at Patsy's potential. Bradley thought that her voice was best-
Arthur Godfrey and "Walkin' After Midnight"
On July 1, 1955 Cline made her network television debut on the short-
In 1956, Cline met Winchester native Charlie Dick, a linotype operator and good-
In the late fall of 1956, she auditioned for Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts in New York City, and was accepted to sing on the CBS-
The audience's enthusiastic ovations pushed the applause meter to its apex, winning the competition for her. After the Godfrey show, listeners began calling their local radio stations to request the song, so she released it as a single. Although Cline had been performing for almost a decade and had appeared on national TV three times, it took Godfrey to make her a star. For a couple of weeks thereafter, Cline appeared regularly on Godfrey's radio program. Disagreements over creative control caused Godfrey to fire her.
Upon her divorce from Cline, she married Charlie Dick on September 15, 1957. Cline regarded Dick as "the love of her life". It was a marriage with much-
"Walkin' After Midnight" reached No. 2 on the country chart and No. 16 on the pop chart, making Cline one of the first country singers to have a crossover pop hit. The single drove her success for the next year or so. She stayed visible by making personal appearances and performing regularly on Godfrey’s show, as well as performing for several years on Ozark Jubilee (later Jubilee USA). She had no other hits with Four Star.
In 1957, Cline recorded "A Stranger in My Arms" and "Don't Ever Leave Me Again," written by friends Lillian Clarborne and James Crawford, the only known releases on which Cline contributed music [she could play piano by ear], under her birth name Virginia Hensley. However, Four-
After the birth of their daughter, Julie, in 1958, Patsy and Charlie moved to Nashville, Tennessee.
1961 comeback – "I Fall to Pieces"
In 1959 Cline met Randy Hughes, a session guitarist and promotion man. Hughes became her manager and helped her change labels. When her Four Star contract expired in 1960, she signed with Decca Records-
Even though she was still scared of the lush Nashville Sound arrangements, Bradley considered Cline's voice best-
Cline's first release for Decca was the country pop ballad "I Fall to Pieces" (1961), written by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard. The song was promoted and won success on both country and pop stations. On the country charts, it slowly climbed to the top, garnering her first Number One ranking. In a major feat for country singers at the time, the song also hit No. 12 on the pop and No. 6 on the adult contemporary charts, making her a household name and demonstrating that women could achieve as much crossover success as men.
Grand Ole Opry and Nashville scene
On January 9, 1960, Cline realized a lifelong dream when the Grand Ole Opry accepted her request to join the cast, making her the only person to achieve membership in such a fashion. She became one of the Opry's biggest stars.
Even before that time, believing that there was "room enough for everybody", and confident of her abilities and appeal, Cline befriended and encouraged women starting out in the country music field at that time, including Loretta Lynn, Dottie West, Jan Howard, 16-
According to both Lynn and West, Cline always gave of herself to friends, buying them groceries and furniture and even hiring them as wardrobe assistants. On occasion, she paid their rent so they could stay in Nashville and continue pursuing their dreams. Honky-
She cultivated a brash and gruff exterior as "one of the boys," befriending male artists as well. Among them were Roger Miller, Hank Cochran, Faron Young, Ferlin Husky, Harlan Howard and Carl Perkins, with all of whom she socialized at the famed Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, next door to the Opry. In the 1986 documentary The Real Patsy Cline, singer George Riddle said of her, "It wasn't unusual for her to sit down and have a beer and tell a joke, and she'd never be offended at the guys' jokes either, because most of the time she'd tell a joke dirtier than you! Patsy was full of life."
Cline used the term of endearment "Hoss" to her friends, both male and female, and called herself "The Cline". She met Elvis Presley in 1962 at a fundraiser for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and they exchanged phone numbers. Having seen him perform during a rare Grand Ole Opry appearance, she admired his music, called him The Big Hoss, and often recorded with his backup group, The Jordanaires.
By this time, Cline controlled her own career, making it clear to all involved that she could stand up to any man, verbally and professionally, and was ready to challenge them if they interfered with her. At a time when concert promoters often cheated stars by promising to pay them after the show but skipping out with the money before the concert ended, Cline demanded her money before she took the stage: Her "No dough, no show", became the rule. According to friend Roy Drusky in the The Real Patsy Cline: "Before one concert, we hadn't been paid. And we were talking about who was going to tell the audience that we couldn't perform without pay. Patsy said, 'I'll tell 'em!' And she did!" Dottie West recalled with amazement some 25 years later that "It was common knowledge around town that you didn't mess with 'The Cline!'"
Cline bore a son, Randy in 1961. On June 14, she and her brother Sam were involved in a head-
When help arrived, Cline insisted that the other car's driver be treated first. She later said she saw the female driver of the other car die before her eyes.(West witnessed this, and the impression left upon her may have contributed to an unfortunate decision she made some three decades later. In 1991, when West was seriously injured in a car accident, she insisted that her driver be treated first. West died from her injuries, possibly because she had declined to be treated immediately. Cline spent a month in the hospital, suffering from a jagged cut across her forehead that required stitches, a broken wrist, and a dislocated hip. Her friend Billy Walker (who died in a vehicle accident in 2006) said Cline rededicated her life to Christ while in the hospital, where she received thousands of cards and flowers from fans. When she was released, her forehead was visibly scarred. (For the rest of her career, she wore wigs and makeup to hide the scars, along with headbands to relieve the pressure that caused headaches.) Six weeks later, she returned to the road on crutches with a new appreciation for life.
A series of recordings titled Patsy Cline: Live at the Cimarron Ballroom, from her first concert after the crash, were released in 1997 and feature Cline interacting with the audience, reviewing her live performances. Recorded in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as a sound check, these archives were found in the attic by a later owner of one of Cline's residences and were given to the family.
Unable to capitalize upon the success of "I Fall to Pieces" due to her hospital stay, Cline sought another recording to re-
Working in a Quonset hut (where the original Bradley's Barn Studio was located before moving to Opryland), she tried to follow Nelson's idiosyncratic narrative style. Cline claimed this was too difficult, and her ribs, injured in the crash, were making it hard for her to reach the high notes. In an era when it was standard to record four songs in a three-
The popular appeal of the final version was attributed to Bradley's management of Cline's fear, because he convinced her to imbue the recording with her unique persona. The song became an intimate representation of Cline and is seen as completely unlike Nelson's version. Now a classic, "Crazy" ultimately became Cline's signature song.
By late 1961, "Crazy" was a crossover success, straddling the country and pop genres, and reached the Top 10 on the charts. It became Cline's biggest pop hit. The song subsequently reached No. 9 on the US Hot 100 and No. 2 on both the Hot Country Songs and the Adult Contemporary lists. An album released in November 1961, entitled Patsy Cline Showcase, featured both of Cline's hits of that year. Loretta Lynn later reported on her album, I Remember Patsy, that on the night Cline premiered "Crazy" at the Grand Ole Opry, she received three standing ovations.
In the fall of 1961, Cline was back in the studio to record an upcoming album for release in early 1962. One of the first songs was "She's Got You", written by Hank Cochran. Cochran pitched the song over the phone to Cline and she fell in love with it at once. It was one of the few songs she enjoyed recording. Released as a single in January 1962, it soon crossed over, reaching No. 14 on the pop charts, No. 3 on the adult contemporary charts (originally called "Easy Listening"), and as her second and final chart-
"She's Got You" was also Cline's first entry in the United Kingdom singles chart, reaching No. 43. The cover by Alma Cogan, one of Britain's most popular female artists of the 1960s, performed notably as well. (The biggest Hit Parade UK record sales entry before her death was her version of the standard Heartaches, reaching the Top 30 in late 1962.)
Following the success of "I've Got You," Cline released a string of smaller country hits, including the Top 10 "When I Get Thru' With You", "Imagine That", "So Wrong", and "Heartaches". These were not big crossover hits, but still reached the Top 20 and Top 10.
In 1962, Cline appeared on Dick Clark's American Bandstand and released her third album, Sentimentally Yours in August. When asked in a WSM-
Life on the road was beginning to wear on Cline. She longed to spend more time with her children, Julie and Randy, and was starting to talk about a hiatus. But Randy, her manager insisted that they had to strike while the iron was hot.
At the top
Cline was the first female country music star to headline her own show and receive billing above the male stars with whom she toured.
While bands typically backed up the female singer, Cline led the band throughout the concerts instead. She was so respected by men in the industry that rather than introducing her to audiences as "Pretty Miss Patsy Cline," as her female contemporaries often were, she was given a more stately introduction—such as that given by Johnny Cash on their 1962 tour: "Ladies and Gentlemen, The One and Only – Patsy Cline." As an artist, she held her fans in extremely high regard, many of them becoming friends, staying for hours after concerts to chat and sign autographs.
Cline was the first woman in country music to perform at New York's Carnegie Hall, sharing the bill with fellow Opry members Minnie Pearl, Jim Reeves, Faron Young, Bill Monroe, and Grandpa Jones. The performance garnered sharp disapproval from gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, at whom Cline eloquently fired back. In Los Angeles, she headlined the Hollywood Bowl with Cash. And in December 1962, she became the first woman in country music to headline her own show in Las Vegas, at the downtown Mint Casino.
This success enabled Cline to buy her dream home in the Goodlettsville suburb of Nashville, decorating it in her own style. It featured gold dust sprinkled in the bathroom tiles and a music room with the finest sound equipment. In The Real Patsy Cline, Lynn remembered: "She called me into the front yard and said, 'Isn't this pretty? Now I'll never be happy until I have my Mama one just like it.'" Cline called it "the house that Vegas built," since the money from the Mint covered its cost. After her death, Cline's home was sold to singer Wilma Burgess.
Original cover of the 1961 studio album, Patsy Cline Showcase, which featured her hits from that year, "I Fall to Pieces" and "Crazy". The cover (and name) were changed following Cline's death to the more-
With the new demand for Cline came higher earnings. Reportedly, she was paid at least $1,000 per appearance toward the end of her life. This was an unheard-
To match her new sophisticated sound, Cline also reinvented her personal style, shedding her trademark Western cowgirl outfits for more elegant gowns, cocktail dresses, spiked heels, and gold lamé pants. In the days before Tanya's skintight leather pants and Reba's famous red dress shocked the country music establishment, Patsy's new image was considered riskier and sexier than anything anybody had ever seen. Country music industry personnel and fans were more used to seeing gingham and calico dresses. Like her sound, Cline's style in fashion was mocked at first, then copied. She also loved dangly earrings, ruby-
During her five-
Cline wrote of her success in a letter to friend Anne Armstrong: "It's wonderful —-
During the same period, Dottie West, June Carter Cash, and Loretta Lynn recalled Cline telling them that she felt a sense of impending doom and did not expect to live much longer. Cline, already known for her excessive generosity, had begun giving away personal items to friends; she wrote her will on Delta Air Lines stationery and asked close friends to care for her children should anything happen to her. She told The Jordanaires' bass singer Ray Walker as she exited the Grand Ole Opry the week before her death: "Honey, I've had two bad ones (accidents). The third one will either be a charm or it'll kill me."
The Last Sessions
In early February, Cline was back in the Quonset hut to record her fourth and what would become her final album of new material, originally entitled Faded Love. Mixing country standards and such vintage pop classics as Irving Berlin's "Always" and "Does Your Heart Beat for Me", these sessions were the most contemporary-
Cline got so involved with the stories in the songs' lyrics, she reportedly cried through most of her final sessions. The raw emotion can be plainly heard on such tracks as "Sweet Dreams" and at the end of "Faded Love". At the playback party, held after the sessions on February 7, according to singer Jan Howard in the documentary Remembering Patsy, Cline held up a copy of her first record and gestured towards the recording booth referencing her newest tracks and said, "Well, here it is ... the first and the last."
Loretta Lynn, also present at the playback party after having gotten herself and her husband Mooney up out of bed at the singer's request, admonished her. "Oh, Patsy!" she cried. Taken aback, the singer said, "Oh, don't get upset. I was only talking about my first recordings compared to the ones we did tonight. Listen to the difference."
A month later, she was gone.
On March 3, 1963, Cline performed a benefit at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, Kansas City, Kansas, for the family of disc jockey "Cactus" Jack Call. He had died in an automobile crash a little over a month earlier. Call was a longtime DJ for KCKN, but had switched to KCMK a week before his death on January 25, 1963, at the age of 39. Also performing in the show were George Jones, George Riddle and The Jones Boys, Billy Walker, Dottie West, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, George McCormick, the Clinch Mountain Boys as well as Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins.
Cline, ill with the flu, gave three performances, at 2 p.m. and 5:15 p.m., with an 8 p.m. show added due to popular demand. All the shows were standing-
Cline, who had spent the night at the Town House Motor Hotel, was unable to fly out the day after the concert because Fairfax Airport was fogged in. West asked Patsy to ride in the car with her and husband, Bill, back to Nashville (a 16-
Hughes was the pilot, but was not trained in instrument flying. Hawkins had accepted Billy Walker's place after Walker left on a commercial flight to take care of a stricken family member. The Dyersburg, Tennessee, airfield manager suggested that they stay the night because of high winds and inclement weather, offering them free rooms and meals. But Hughes responded, "I've already come this far. We'll be there before you know it." The plane took off at 6:07 p.m. (Hughes' flight instructor had also trained Jim Reeves, whose plane crashed the following year. Neither pilot was instrument-
Cline's flight crashed in heavy weather on the evening of March 5, 1963. Her recovered wristwatch had stopped at 6:20 p.m. The plane was found some 90 miles (140 km) from its Nashville destination, in a forest outside Camden, Tennessee. Forensic examination concluded that everyone aboard had been killed instantly. Until the wreckage was discovered the following dawn and reported on the radio, friends and family had not given up hope. Endless calls tied up the local telephone exchanges to such a degree that other emergency calls had trouble getting through. The lights at the destination Cornelia Fort Airpark were kept on throughout the night, as reports of the missing plane were broadcast on radio and TV.
Early in the morning, Roger Miller and a friend went searching for survivors: "As fast as I could, I ran through the woods screaming their names -
As per her wishes, Cline was brought home for her memorial service, which thousands attended. She was buried at Shenandoah Memorial Park in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia. Her grave is marked with a bronze plaque, which reads: "Virginia H. (Patsy) Cline 'Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies: Love'". With the help of Loretta Lynn and Dottie West, a bell tower was erected at the cemetery in her memory, which plays hymns daily at 6:00 p.m., the hour of her death. Another memorial marks the exact place off Fire Tower Road in Fatty Bottom, Tennessee, where the plane crashed in the still-
Cline’s mother, Hilda Hensley, died in 1998 of natural causes at 82; her father died of cirrhosis of the liver in the mid-
As Hilda was only 16 years older than Patsy, the two were very close. Cline's brother died in 2004. Her sister still lives in Virginia. As of 2011, husband Charlie Dick resided in Nashville, producing documentaries on his late wife and attending fan functions. In 1965, he married singer Jamey Ryan, who signed a brief contract with Columbia Records before bearing a son. They divorced in the early 1970s. In the film Sweet Dreams, Ryan provided the vocals for one song: "Blue Christmas" (a tune Cline never recorded). Dick and Ryan have four children (one, Virginia, named for Cline, was killed in an automobile accident in 1994) and six grandchildren. Charlie Dick and his daughter Julie Fudge represent Cline's estate at public functions.
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