CLINE, PATSY (Virginia Patterson Hensley) (1932–1963) Singer
With her infectious blend of hillbilly and pop, Patsy Cline became one of the first female stars of country music. Born Virginia Patterson Hensley on September 8, 1932, she began her performing career at four, when she won an amateur talent contest in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia. By eight, she was learning to play the piano and singing in her church choir.
While working as a drugstore clerk to support her family, Hensley began performing in local clubs in 1948. She was spotted by Wally Fowler of the Grand Ole Opry radio show, who encouraged her to pursue her singing career in Nashville. Hensley took his advice but quickly ran out of money while trying to break into the music industry. Back in Winchester, in 1953 she married Gerald Cline, who disapproved of her singing professionally. They divorced three years later. Slowly, Patsy Cline continued to build her career. After touring with Opry stars Faron Young and Ferlin Husky, she was signed to a recording contract with Four Star Sales. Her first record, “A Church, a Courtroom and Then Good-Bye,” was released in 1955.
Her recordings with Four Star were largely undistinguished, with the notable exception of “Walkin’ After Midnight.” She performed the song on the nationally televised show Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scout on November 8, 1956. The audience response was enormous, and Four Star quickly released “Walkin’” as a single. The record rose to number three on the country chart and number 12 on the pop chart. For the next three years, Cline’s career stagnated as Four Star struggled to produce a follow-up hit. During this period, she married Charlie Dick, with whom she had two children, Julia and Randy. In 1959, Cline signed a new contract with Decca, which began promoting her heavily. The following year, she became a regular performer on the Grand Ole Opry.
Cline sealed her stardom in 1961 with the release of two chart-toppers, “I Fall to Pieces” and “Crazy.” These were followed over the next two years by a string of hits, including “When I Get Through with You, You’ll Love Me,” “Faded Love,” and “Leavin’ on Your Mind.” On these recordings, Cline was paired with producer Owen Bradley, who backed her strong, emotional vocals with lush orchestrations. The records were instrumental in developing a pop-infiuenced style of country that helped widen country’s commercial appeal.
While returning home from a benefit concert in Kansas City, Cline died in a plane crash on March 5, 1963, near Camden, Tennessee. Though her recording career lasted only eight years, Cline’s records continue to be enormously popular and infiuential. LORETTA LYNN, Linda Ronstadt, and k. d. lang are among the hundreds of singers who owe a debt to Cline. Her greatest-hits album is the best selling of any by a female artist, and her version of “Crazy” was certified in 2000 as the number one jukebox hit of all time by the Amusement and Music Operators of America. In 1973, 10 years after her death, Cline became the first woman inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame as a solo act.
Hazen, Cindy, and Mike Freeman, eds. Love Always, Patsy:Patsy Cline’s Letters to a Friend. New York: Berkley Books, 1999.
Nassour, Ellis. Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.
Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
The Patsy Cline Collection. Uni/MCA, CD set, 1991.
Sweet Dreams (1985). HBO Home Video, DVD/VHS, 2000/1998.