Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn were friends up to the moment the 30-year-old Cline was killed in a plane crash on March 5, 1963. Though their friendship lasted a few years, it had a remarkable impact. Cline, whose emotion-filled alto had made her a star in country music, was a mentor to the then up-and-coming Lynn. As Lynn went on to achieve country superstardom herself, she never forgot the woman who was there for her in the beginning, admitting in 2009, "I still miss her to this day."
Lynn paid tribute to Cline after Cline got in a car accident
In the spring of 1961, Cline suffered severe injuries in a car accident. While Cline was in the hospital, Lynn appeared on Midnight Jamboree, a radio show that aired after the Grand Ole Opry, and dedicated a performance of Cline's hit "I Fall to Pieces" to the ailing singer. Upon hearing Lynn, Cline had her husband arrange for the fellow singer to pay a visit. Cline was still bandaged and in pain from the accident, but the two clicked immediately.
Though Cline was the bigger star at the time, the two women had a lot in common: they were with the same label, Decca, and worked with the same producer, Owen Bradley. Each had been born in 1932 (though Lynn claimed to be a couple of years younger). And it hadn't been easy for either to get to Nashville: Lynn was a coal miner's daughter with four kids who'd arrived with not much more than her $17 guitar in hand. Cline, who'd left school at 16, had struggled with a lack of quality songs for years before finding success in 1957 with a televised performance of "Walkin' After Midnight."
Cline became Lynn's mentor and biggest supporter
The more experienced Cline became a source of support for Lynn, who was still learning the ropes of a country career. Cline invited Lynn to go on the road with her, and also provided pointers on how to style her hair, wear heels and use makeup. In 1985, Lynn said of Cline, "She taught us everything about singin', about how to act onstage, how to stagger the numbers, how to dress."
If Lynn couldn't afford rent, groceries or even drapes for her home, Cline stepped in. She also had a habit of giving Lynn clothes. In 2016, Lynn spoke about what it was like to visit Cline: "When I'd go over, she'd be cookin' for me, and when everything was over and she would start diggin' in her clothes, finding little old stuff for me to wear, sweaters and stuff. And she’d load me down before the night was over." Cline even gave Lynn panties, which Lynn wore for years and has described as, "Them panties was the best panties that I'd ever seen!"
According to Lynn, Cline also stood up for her when she was being ostracized by other women in the industry. In her 1976 memoir, Coal Miner's Daughter, Lynn related that some of her fellow singers were envious that Lynn had received multiple invitations to perform at the Opry. When Cline learned that these women were getting together to try to stop Lynn's Opry appearances, she showed up at the meeting with Lynn in tow. Lynn wrote in her memoir, "Patsy put the stamp of approval on me, and I never had any problems with them again."
Working her way up in the male-dominated field of country music had taught Cline to stand up for herself, like insisting on getting paid before she went onstage because she'd encountered venues that tried to shortchange female performers. Lynn has said that Cline's example helped uncover her own courage: "After I met Patsy, life got better for me because I fought back. Before that, I just took it. I had to. I was 3,000 miles away from my mom and dad and had four little kids. There was nothin' I could do about it. But later on I starting speakin' my mind when things weren't right."
Lynn felt like the 'rug had been pulled out from under me' when Cline tragically died
In 1963, Cline's career was reaching new heights, thanks in large part to her powerful, plaintive recording of "Crazy." In March, Cline performed at a benefit concert in Kansas City, Kansas. But on her way back home, the small plane she was in went down in Camden, Tennessee, 85 miles west of Nashville. Cline was killed along with everyone else on board. Like Cline's family, Lynn was devastated by the loss. "When I heard that morning that Patsy was gone, I said out loud, 'What am I going to do?' It was like a rug had been pulled out from under me. She was my friend, my mentor, my strength."
Yet Cline's lessons were remembered even after she was gone. "I had my children with me quite a bit on tour because of her. I saw how much she’d miss her babies," Lynn said in 2016. She vowed to treat newcomers with respect, as Cline had. And Lynn kept in mind: "Patsy didn't let nobody tell her what to do. She done what she felt, and if a man got in her way she let 'em know they couldn't stand there." Cline's determination helped Lynn create controversial songs such as "The Pill," a celebration of the benefits of birth control that was banned by multiple stations after its release in 1975.
Lynn honored Cline by recording a 'near-perfect' album of Cline's songs
Over the years, Lynn has honored her friendship with Cline in different ways. When she had twin daughters in 1964, one of the girls was named Patsy. A few years later, Lynn selected songs from Cline's repertoire for the 1977 album I Remember Patsy. Though Lynn felt that "nobody can sing Patsy's songs like Patsy," her record was deemed a "near-perfect tribute album" by Rolling Stone.
Given her talent, Cline would have been remembered for her music. However, thanks to Lynn and her openness about their relationship, there's been a deeper understanding of the kind of person Cline was — forthright, independent, generous and willing to tackle a range of challenges. In her memoir, Lynn said of Cline, "She wasn’t just a person that sang. She had greatness and I think that came across in the little time that she was here."