Millions of her records have sold since her death. She won awards and accolades,
leading some fans to view her as an icon at the level of 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.
Cline was born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932, in Winchester,
Virginia, to Hilda Patterson Hensley, a 16-year-old seamstress, and Sam Hensley, a 43-year-old blacksmith. Patsy
soon had a younger brother and sister, Samuel and Sylvia; the siblings were called Ginny, John, and Sis. The family
moved often before settling in Winchester when Patsy was 8. She grew up "on the wrong side of the tracks". Sam
deserted his family in 1947, but the Hensley home was reportedly quite happy.
She was introduced to music at an early age, singing in church with her mother and admired stars such as Kay Starr,
Jo Stafford, Hank Williams, Judy Garland, and Shirley Temple. Patsy had perfect pitch and was
self-taught but could not read music.
When she was thirteen, she was hospitalized with a throat
infection and rheumatic fever. She relates that "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
After several weeks of watching performers through the window at
her local radio station, she asked WINC-AM disc jockey and talent co-ordinator Jimmy McCoy if she could sing on his
show. Her first performance on radio in 1947 was so well received that she was asked to return. This led to
performances at local nightclubs, wearing fringed Western stage outfits that her mother made from Patsy's
Cline performed in variety and talent showcases in and around the
Winchester and Tri-State areas coupled with increasing appearances on local radio, she attracted a large following.
In 1954 Jimmy Dean, a young country star in his own right, learned of her and she became a regular with Dean on
Connie B. Gay's Town and Country Jamboree radio show, airing weekday afternoons live on WARL-AM in
She married contractor Gerald Cline on September 19, 1953 and
divorced him on July 4, 1957. The dissolution of that marriage was blamed on their considerable age difference and
on the conflict between her desire to sing professionally and his desire that she adopt the conventional role of a
On July 1, 1955 Cline made her network television debut on the
short-lived television version of the Grand Ole Opry on ABC-TV. This was followed by an appearance on the network's
Ozark Jubilee later that month before returning to the Opry show in April.
Later that year, while looking for material for her first album,
Patsy Cline. "Walkin' After Midnight" was a song written by Donn Hecht and Alan Block. Cline
initially did not like the song because it was, according to her, "just a little old pop song." However, the song's
writers and record label insisted that she record it.
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-TV show on January 21, 1957. Godfrey's
"discovery" of Cline was typical. Her scout, actually her mother, presented Patsy who initially was supposed to
sing "A Poor Man's Roses (Or a Rich Man's Gold)", but the show's producers insisted she sing "Walkin' After
Midnight" instead. Though heralded as a country song, recorded in Nashville, Godfrey's staff insisted that Cline
appear in a cocktail dress rather than in one of her mother's hand-crafted cowgirl outfits.
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 months
thereafter, Cline appeared regularly on Godfrey's radio program.
"Walkin' After Midnight" reached No. 2 on the country chart and
No. 12 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. Disagreements over creative control on Godfrey's show resulted in her movng
Cline composed and recorded "A Stranger in My Arms" and "Don't
Ever Leave Me Again" in 1957 under her birth name, Virginia Hensley but the songs never went anywhere.
A month after her recording session, she met Charlie Dick, a
good-looking ladies man who frequented the local club circuit Cline played on weekends. His charisma and admiration
of Cline's talents captured her attention, and their relationship resulted in a marriage that lasted until her
death. Though their love affair was publicized as controversial, Cline regarded Dick as "the love of her life".
After the birth of their daughter, Julie, in 1958, they moved to Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1959 Cline met Randy Hughes, a session guitarist and promotion
man. Hughes became her manager and helped her change labelswhen her Four
Star contract expired in 1960. She signed with Decca Records-Nashville, directly under the direction of legendary
female-singer country music producer Owen Bradley. He was responsible for much of Cline's success and positively
influenced the careers of both Brenda Lee and Loretta Lynn.
Even though she was still scared of the lush Nashville Sound
arrangements, Bradley considered Cline's voice best-suited for country pop-crossover songs. Bradley's direction and
arrangements helped smooth her voice into the silky, torch song style for which she won fame.
Shortly before her 1961 life-threatening car accident 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 music stations. On the country charts, the song slowly climbed to the top, garnering her first
Number One ranking. In a major feat for country singers at the time, the song 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.
Patsy Cline on the Glenn Reeves Show on Feb 23, 1963
In 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, sixteen-year-old Brenda Lee and
a thirteen-year-old steel-guitar player named Barbara Mandrell with whom Cline once toured, all of whom cited her
as a major influence.
According to both Lynn and West, Cline always gave herself to
friends, buying them groceries and furniture and even hiring them as wardrobe assistants. On occasion, she paid
their rent, enabling them to stay in Nashville and continue pursuing their dreams. Honky-tonk pianist and Opry star
Del Wood said, "Even when she didn't have it, she'd spend it—and not always on herself. She'd give anyone the skirt
off her backside if they needed it."
She cultivated a brash and gruff exterior that allowed her to be
considered "one of the boys". This allowed her to befriend male artists as well, including Roger Miller, Hank
Cochran, Faron Young, Ferlin Husky, Harlan Howard and Carl Perkins all of whom she socialized with at famed
Nashville establishment 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, as I remember."
Cline used the term of endearment "Hoss" to refer to her friends,
both male as well as female, and referred to herself as "The Cline". Patsy 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 their
rules if they interfered with her. In 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 by proclaiming: "No dough, no show", a practice that 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!" Friend Dottie West
stated in amazement some 25 years later in an interview 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-on collision on Old Hickory Boulevard in Nashville, the second and more serious of two
crashes during her lifetime. The impact threw Cline into the windshield, nearly killing her. Upon arriving at the
scene, Dottie West picked glass from Cline's hair, and went with her in the ambulance.
When help arrived, Cline insisted that the other car's driver be
treated first, an event which had a long-term detrimental effect on Dottie West. Cline later stated that she saw
the female driver of the other car die before her eyes. When in 1991 West was fatally injured in a car accident,
she too insisted that her driver be treated first, possibly causing her own death.
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. Both Nassour and friend Billy
Walker (who died in a vehicle accident in 2006) reported that Cline rededicated her life to Christianity while in
the hospital, where she received thousands of cards and flowers from fans.
When she left the hospital, her forehead was visibly scarred. For
the remainder of her career, she wore wigs and makeup to hide the scars, along with headbands to relieve the
forehead pressure that caused headaches if left unattended. 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 dialogue of
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
Unable to capitalize upon the success of "I Fall to Pieces" due to
her hospital stay, Cline sought another recording to re-establish herself. When introduced to "Crazy", a song
written by Willie Nelson, Cline expressed a vehement dislike for the composition and the inaugural recording
session was unsuccessful.
Undertaken in the Quonset Hut (where the original Bradley's Barn
Studio was located before moving to Opryland), the singer tried from the outset to record "Crazy" like Nelson's
demo recording, which featured his idiosyncratic style. Cline claimed that the song was too difficult for her; not
only because of the demo style, but also because her ribs, injured in the crash, made it difficult for her to reach
the high notes. The problems during the session created conflict with Bradley. In an era where it had become a
standard to record four songs in a three-hour period, those present at the Quonset Hut "Crazy" session had to cope
with a four-hour session for a single song. It was eventually decided that Cline would overdub her vocals over the
best instrumental recording of the track. This came a week later when the singer's ribs had further healed. Upon
returning to the studio, Cline could reach the high notes and recorded her part in a single take.
Patsy Cline at Four Star Records in March 1957. The popular appeal of the final
version of the recording was attributed to Bradley's management of Cline's fear of the Nashville Sound, because he
convinced her to imbue the recording with her unique persona. The song became an intimate representation of Cline
and is perceived to be completely unlike Nelson's version. Now considered 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.
Patsy Cline was the first female country music star to headline
her own show and receive billing above the male stars with whom she toured. She was so respected by men in the
industry that rather than being introduced 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 fan base in extremely high regard, many
of whom became friends, staying for hours after concerts to chat and sign autographs.
She was the first woman in country music to perform at New York's
Carnegie Hall, sharing the bill with fellow Opry members.
Friends Dottie West, June Carter Cash, and Loretta Lynn recalled
Cline telling them during 1962–1963 that she felt a sense of impending doom and did not expect to live much longer.
Cline, known for her generosity, had begun giving away personal items to friends, writing her will on Delta Air
Lines stationery and asking close friends to care for her children should anything happen to her. She told
Jordanaires back-up 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."
On March 3, 1963 Cline performed at 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 in January 25, 1963 at the age of 39. Also performing on the show were George Jones, George Riddle
and The Jones Boys, Billy Walker, Dottie West, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, Geor
ge McCormick, the Clinch Mountain Boys as well as Cowboy Copas and
Reports vary as to whether Cline, ill with the flu, gave two or
three performances. Some sources say the shows were at 2 p.m. and 5:15 p.m., but other sources say an 8 p.m. show
was added due to popular demand. The shows were standing-room only. For the 2 p.m. show, she wore a sky-blue
tulle-laden dress, for the 5:15 show a red shocker, and for the closing show at 8 p.m., Cline wore white chiffon
and closed the show to a thunderous ovation. Her final song was the last she had recorded the previous month, "I'll
Sail My Ship Alone".
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. Dottie West asked Patsy to ride
in the car with her and husband, Bill, back to Nashville (approximately a 16 hour drive), but Cline refused,
saying, "Don't worry about me, Hoss. When it's my time to go, it's my time." On March 5, she called her mother from
the motel and checked out at 12:30 p.m. to go the short distance to the airport to board the Piper Comanche. The
plane stopped once in Missouri to refuel and subsequently landed at Dyersburg Municipal Airport in Dyersburg,
Tennessee at 5 p.m.
Hughes was the pilot, but was not trained in instrument flying.
Hawkins had accepted Billy Walker's seat 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 after advising of high winds
and inclement weather, and even offered 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-rated and both attempted
using visual flight rules known as VFR—impossible in the driving rain faced by both flights.)
Cline's flight encountered inclement weather and crashed on the
evening of March 5, 1963. Her recovered wristwatch had stopped at approximately 6:20 p.m. The plane wreckage was
located approximately 90 miles from its Nashville destination in a forest outside Camden, Tennessee. Forensic
examinations concluded that everyone aboard had been killed instantaneously from their injuries and did not suffer.
Until the wreckage was discovered the following dawn and reported on the radio, friends and family had not given up
hope. Endless repetitions of calls such as "Did you hear anything?" "No, did you?" tied up the local telephone
exchanges to such a degree that other emergencies occurring over the same period 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 the following morning, Roger Miller and his friend went
searching for survivors: "As fast as I could, I ran through the woods screaming their names—through the brush and
the trees, and I came up over this little rise, oh, my God, there they were. It was ghastly. The plane had crashed
nose down" Shortly after the bodies were removed, looters scavenged the area. Some of the items which were
recovered were eventually donated to The Country Music Hall of Fame. Included in those donations were Cline's wrist
watch, Confederate flag cigarette lighter, studded belt and three pairs of gold lamé slippers. Cline's fee and
attire from that last performance were never recovered.
Patsy Cline left us at a young age but her music will be with us
forever. Thank you Patsy for the memories. According to her 1973 Country Music Hall of Fame plaque, "Her heritage
of timeless recordings is testimony to her artistic capacity."