This week marks the 55th anniversary of the death of Patsy Cline. With an unmistakable voice and a sassy stage presence, she remains the most influential female vocalist in the field of country music.
Born Virginia Patterson Hensley, her childhood was filled with singing and dancing. When she was 15 years old, her parents separated. Following the departure of her father, she dropped out of school. Soon, she was singing anywhere that she could land an engagement. Music became a matter of economic survival. She and her mother were extremely close and the strength of their bond would be what allowed her to prevail through several ups and downs in show business.
After a stint of performing solo at taverns, beer joints and clubs, she joined a local band, Bill Peer and the Melody Boys. Wrongly assuming her middle name was Patricia, Peer chose Patsy as her stage name. In 1953, she married Gerald Cline, thus creating Patsy Cline.
Soon after her marriage, she went to Nashville and made a guest appearance on Ernest Tubb’s Midnight Jamboree radio program. Later, she became a regular on the syndicated radio show Town and Country Time. In 1954, she began recording for 4-Star Records. Three years later, Cline had her first hit record, “Walkin’ after Midnight.” Also in 1957, she got divorced and married Charlie Dick.
In 1960, her childhood dream of being a member of the Grand Ole Opry came true. Later that year, Cline moved to Decca Records and soon had her first number one single, “I Fall to Pieces.” The song stayed on the country charts for 39 weeks and crossed over to peak at No. 15 on the pop charts.
Industry higher-ups were quick to speculate on whether Cline could follow the success of “I Fall to Pieces.” She profoundly answered with “Crazy.” Written by Willie Nelson, the tune became a country music standard. In 1962, Cline delivered “She’s Got You,” which spent five weeks at number one.
Under the keen production of Owen Bradley, the sophistication of her recordings was paying huge dividends. Cline was suddenly on the top rung of the country music ladder. Unfortunately, tragedy struck.
Along with Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Randy Hughes, Cline journeyed back from a benefit show in Kansas City to Nashville in a small private plane that crashed near Camden, Tenn., on March 5, 1963, killing all passengers. By the end of the year, she posthumously scored two more hits, “Sweet Dreams” and “Faded Love.”
Ten years after that fatal crash, Cline became the first female to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. A fitting accolade for a lady who not only opened doors for female artists, but knocked them down. Although her extraordinary voice was silenced at the age of 30, she remains an icon for women in country music.
Beebe native Charles Haymes is a member of the Country Music Association and a music historian. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.