Profile of a Performer: Patsy Cline

I have several friends that are huge Patsy Cline fans, so I thought it would be fun to take a look at her life and career.

Wikipedia says, “Cline was 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. She overcame poverty, an unsuccessful marriage, a devastating automobile accident, and significant professional obstacles, and has been cited as an inspiration by Reba McEntire, LeAnn Rimes, and other singers in diverse styles.”

Patsy Cline

Virginia Patterson Hensley was born on September 8, 1932 in Winchester, Virginia.  She was the oldest child born to Samuel Lawrence and Hilda Virginia Patterson Hensley.  Her father deserted the family when she was fifteen.

Cline was introduced to music at an early age, singing in church with her mother.  She was self-taught and had perfect pitch but was unable to read music.

When Patsy 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”

After her father left, she asked the local radio station if she could sing on the show.  She needed a way to help support the family and had been working as a soda jerk and waitress at the Triangle Diner in Winchester, Virginia.

Her 1947 performance was well received and she was often invited back.  This success led to appearances at local nightclubs.  Her mother made her Western outfits based on her own designs.

On March 7, 1953, she married Gerald Edward Cline, a local contractor.  The marriage ended in divorce on July 4, 1957 due to her desire for a career.

In 1954, she became a regular with Jimmy Dean on  Connie B. Gay’s Town and Country Jamboree radio show, airing weekday afternoons live on WARL in Arlington, Virginia.

Patsy Cline

On September 15, 1957, Cline married Charles Allen Dick, a linotype operator. Cline regarded Dick as “the love of her life”.  The couple had two children together, Julie in 1958 and Randy in 1961.  Later there were allegations of abuse, but the marriage lasted until her death.

Bill Peer, her second manager, gave her the name Patsy, from her middle name, Patterson.  In 1955, Peer signed her to a contract with Decca Records. For the next two years, she experimented with her sound, recording honky tonk, rockabilly, country and yodeling.

On July 1, 1955 Cline made her network television debut on the short-lived television version of the Grand Ole Opry on ABC-TV.

Cline was looking for material for her first album, when “Walkin’ After Midnight” appeared.  She did not initially like the song but recorded it at the record label and song writers insistence.

Patsy Cline

In late 1956, she sang “Walkin’ After Midnight” on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in New York City.  The audience wildly enjoyed the song and soon request rolled in for the song and reached No. 2 on the country chart.

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”.

In 1959, she signed with Randy Hughes, who also had a positive influence on the careers of Loretta Lynn and Brenda Lee.

In 1961, she had great success with “I Fall to Pieces“.

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.

Cline is reported to mentor, befriend and encourage women starting in the country music field such as Dottie West, Brenda Lee, Barbara Mandrell and Loretta Lynn.  She also had strong friendships with many of her male counterparts.

Patsy Cline

She is said to have recorded with Elvis Presley’s 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 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!'”, as Patsy was known to those in the industry.

On June 14, 1961, she and her brother Sam were involved in a head-on collision on Old Hickory Boulevard in Nashville. 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.

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 and rededicated her life to Christ while in the hospital.

Patsy Cline

Six weeks after she was released from the hospital, she returned to the road on crutches with a new appreciation for life.

Cline was introduced to the song Crazy, written by Willie Nelson.  She recorded the song in 1961 and the song became a crossover success.

“She’s Got You” was Cline’s first entry on the U.K. singles charts in 1962.  In 1962, Cline appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and released her third album, Sentimentally Yours in August. When asked in a WSM-AM interview about her vocal stylings, she said, “Oh, I just sing like I hurt inside”.

Life on the road began to take its toll and she longed to spend more time with her children.  But her manager urged her to “strike while the iron was hot”.

Cline was the first female country music star to headline her own show and receive billing above the male stars with whom she toured.

Patsy Cline

Cline was the first woman in country music to perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall.  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

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.

Cline began to wonder how to top her own success, while at the same time mentioning a feeling of impending doom.

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.

Ill with the flue, Cline performed three times and her show was very popular.

She caught a flight home to Nashville, TN on March 5, 1963.  The plane crashed in the forest of Camden, TN about 90 miles from its destination.  The plane crashed nose down and everyone on board was killed instantly.

Patsy Cline was buried in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia.

Patsy Cline

Three of her songs became Top 10 Country hits posthumously.  These songs are “Sweet Dreams”, “Leavin’ on Your Mind” and “Faded Love”.

In 1973, Cline was the first female solo artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

A museum dedicated to Cline opened to the public on April 7, 2017. The Patsy Cline Museum is located at 119 3rd Avenue South in Nashville, Tennessee, on the second floor of The Johnny Cash Museum building. The Patsy Cline Museum houses the largest collection of Cline artifacts and memorabilia under one roof. Exhibits include original clothing and stage costumes, awards, as well as household and personal items from Cline’s Nashville-area “dream home.”

The legacy and memory of Patsy Cline lives on through her music and memory.