Guest Author - Vance Rowe
March 5, 2010 marks the 37th anniversary of the death of famed country singer Patsy Cline. She was definitely the standard bearer for the women of country music.
Born Virginia Patterson Hensley in September of 1932 to a woman who was just sixteen years of age, she would grow up to be a country music icon that was killed in the prime of her life. As a young girl, Patsy Cline was interested in dance until her interests changed to music. She learned to play the piano by ear and never learned to read a musical note. Her father abandoned the family when she was just fifteen but she always said that she had a happy childhood. She had dropped out of high school to help support her family and during the day worked as a waitress and soda jerk and at night she would sing in local nightclubs. She began her singing career in her church and sounded pretty good until a serious throat infection gifted her with “a booming voice like Kate Smith’s”. That is how Patsy described her voice after recovering from the illness.
When she performed at the clubs, she wore western style outfits with fringes on them that she designed and were made by her mother. In 1953, she married a man named Gerald Cline and divorced him in 1957 because he was stifling her music career. He wanted her to be a housewife and a homemaker but she wasn’t ready to do that fulltime. Another man in her life at that time was her manager, Bill Peer. He gave her the name “Patsy” after her middle name of Patterson. In 1955, after appearing on several local radio shows and developing a following, which included a young singer named Jimmy Dean, she began appearing on a local television show in Washington D.C. called Town and Country, a television show that featured Dean as well.
She was finally signed to a record label named Four Star Records and recorded the song “Walkin’ After Midnight” which was originally written for Kay Starr but Starr didn’t like it so never recorded it. Patsy Cline didn’t want to record it either but did after some coaxing and it appeared on her first album which was self named. In 1957, she sang the song on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent’s Scouts and it became a hit song for her climbing to number 2 on the Country Music charts and number 20 on the Pop charts. She won the competition and would be a regular on his radio show for a couple of months afterward and in 1960, she signed with Decca Records-Nashville.
She recorded seventeen songs between 1955 and 1961 but “Walkin’” would be her only hit until 1961. Her first single with Decca was “I Fall to Pieces” which became her first number one hit on the country charts and went to number 12 on the pop charts. Also in 1961, she became a regular on the Grand Ole Opry. She gave birth to a son that year and in June of that year, she and her brother were in a car accident that almost claimed her life. It was a head on collision that sent her through the windshield. Her friend, Dottie West was first on the scene and was picking glass from Cline’s hair when Patsy told her that she wanted the other woman treated first. Patsy later said that she saw the other woman die in front of her eyes in the hospital.
Crazy was a song written by Willie Nelson that she recorded late in 1961 and would become her signature song and one that she is most recognized for today. In 1963, on March 5, Patsy Cline was killed in a plane accident due to bad weather just outside of Camden, Tennessee, just about 90 miles from their destination. Also on the private plane were Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins and her manager Randy Hughes. She was 30 years old. Ten years later she would be the first woman to be inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Patsy Cline was the inspiration for such stars as Dottie West, Loretta Lynn, Brenda Lee and Barbara Mandrell. She made on impact on country music and that will always be her legacy. You cannot mention country music without mentioning Patsy Cline and is an inspiration to women everywhere.