Who Was Patsy Cline?
Country singer Patsy Cline performed for nearly a decade before her breakthrough 1957 television appearance, singing "Walking After Midnight." She went on to many crossover pop and country hits, including "Crazy" and "She's Got You," becoming one of the leading Nashville figures before her death in a plane crash in 1963, in Camden, Tennessee.
Cline was born Virginia Patterson Hensley on September 8, 1932, in Winchester, Virginia. She helped break down the gender barrier in this musical genre, thanks in large part to her smooth-sounding, emotive voice.
Cline's father, Samuel, was a blacksmith. Her mother, Hilda, was only 16 years old when she married Samuel, more than 25 years her senior. The couple had three children together before splitting up, with Hilda becoming a seamstress to support her family.
Cline taught herself how to play the piano around the age of eight. She later discovered her passion for singing. When she was 16, Cline dropped out of school to go to work because her family desperately needed the money. She was employed at a number of places, including a poultry plant and a local soda shop. In her free time, Cline started her singing career. She performed on local radio stations and entered numerous singing contests.
In 1952, Cline began performing with bandleader Bill Peer's group. Peer encouraged her to change her first name to "Patsy" for their performances. She picked up the second part of her now-famous moniker the following year after marrying Gerald Cline. Cline landed a recording contract in 1954, but her first few singles failed to catch on.
Cline's career hit a turning point in 1957. She landed a spot on the Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts show. Cline wowed audiences with her performance of "Walkin' After Midnight," winning the program's competition. After her appearance on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, the song hit the country and pop charts.
Cline divorced Gerald around this time. She soon married Charles Dick. The couple had two children together, daughter Julie and son Randy.
In the early 1960s, Cline enjoyed great success on the country and pop charts. She also joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee—a true sign of her place in country music. Now with Decca Records, she released some of her greatest hits. "I Fall to Pieces" hit the top of the country charts in 1961. It also became a Top 20 single on the pop charts. Chart success soon struck again with the Willie Nelson-penned "Crazy." That same year, Cline survived a traumatic car crash.
In 1962, Cline again hit the number one spot on the country charts with "She's Got You." She started performing with Johnny Cash around this time, joining his tour. Cline performed with the likes of June Carter and George Jones during this time as well. She was supportive of other female country artists, such as Loretta Lynn, and she tried to help them with their careers. The pair's friendship is documented in the 2019 Lifetime movie Patsy & Loretta.
Tragic Death and Legacy
Cline's own career was all too brief. She died on March 5, 1963, in a plane crash in Camden, Tennessee. After her death, her version of "Sweet Dreams" was released and became a hit.
Considered one of country music's greatest vocalists, Cline was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973. Her life became the subject of the 1985 film Sweet Dreams, starring Jessica Lange. Her music remains popular today with fans around the world, with many making the pilgrimage to her hometown of Winchester, Virginia, to visit the Patsy Cline Historic Home.
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