Biography of Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline – American country music singer.
Name: Virginia Patterson Hensley
Date of Birth: September 8, 1932
Place of Birth: Winchester, Virginia, United States
Date of Death: March 5, 1963 (aged 30)
Place of Death: Camden, Tennessee, United States
Father: Sam Hensley
Mother: Hilda Patterson Hensley
Spouse/Ex: Gerald Cline (m. 1953–1957), Charles Dick (m. 1957–1963)
Children: Allen Randolph, Julia Simadore
An American country music singer whose talent and wide-ranging appeal made her one of the classic performers of the genre, bridging the gap between country music and more mainstream audiences, Patsy Cline was born on September 8, 1932, in Winchester, Virginia, in the city’s Memorial Hospital. She successfully “crossed over” to pop music and was one of the most influential, successful, and acclaimed vocalists of the 20th century.
Cline was known for her rich and booming, emotionally charged voice that could give anyone goosebumps. She did not become a country music star in a day- she had to, in fact, work very hard to sustain her life and support her family members as she came from a middle-class background. Her love for singing was so huge that she taught music to herself by experience. After getting some popularity through sporadic performances on the local radio channels, Cline signed contracts with the big record companies like Four Star Records, Decca Records, etc. and found her way to the heart of the country and pop music lovers through television, radio, and stage shows.
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,” and Willie Nelson’s “Crazy,” and ended in 1963 with Don Gibson’s “Sweet Dreams.” She broke a record spending 251 weeks on country music charts in the United States. Millions of her records have sold since her death. She won awards and accolades, causing many to view her as an icon at the level of Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley. She became the first female solo artist inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973, ten years after her death. In 1999, she was voted number 11 on VH1’s special The 100 Greatest Women in Rock and Roll.
Cline was the first female country singer to have a crossover pop hit but unfortunately, at the height of her singing career, Cline died in a tragic plane crash. Millions of records were sold after her death and she became the first female solo artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2002, she was voted Number One on Country Music Television’s The 40 Greatest Women of Country Music, and she was ranked 46th in the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” issue of Rolling Stone magazine.
Childhood, Family and Educational Life
Patsy Cline, original name Virginia Patterson Hensley, was born on September 8, 1932, in Winchester, Virginia, the U.S. to Hilda Patterson Hensley and Sam Hensley. She belonged to a lower-middle-class background as her father was a blacksmith and mother a seamstress. She had a brother Samuel Jr. (1939-2004) and a sister Sylvia. Her father left the family when Cline was only 15 years old.
When Patsy was 13, she was hospitalized with a throat infection and rheumatic fever. She later said, “The fever affected my throat and when I recovered I had this booming voice like Kate Smith.” Cline enrolled at John Handley High School but never attended classes.
In order to support her family, Cline left school and took up menial jobs like working as a waitress. Since singing was one of her fortes, she requested the WINC-AM’s coordinator if she could sing on his show. Her performance in 1947 was well received and she was asked back. This led to appearances at local nightclubs wearing fringed Western outfits that her mother made from Patsy’s designs.
Patsy Cline married contractor Gerald Edward Cline (1925-1994) on March 7, 1953. Their divorce was finalized in March 1957, and there were no children from the union. The failure of their marriage was blamed on the conflict between Patsy’s desire to sing professionally and Gerald’s wish that she remain at home. She retained the last name professionally for the rest of her life.
Cline got married to a linotype operator, Charlie Dick, in 1957 and remained married to him until her death. The couple had two children together: Julia Simadore (born 1958) and Allen Randolph (born 1961).
Patsy Cline met with a near-fatal accident in 1961, while she was traveling with her brother in a car around Nashville. She suffered from an uneven cut across her forehead, a broken wrist and a dislocated hip.
Career and Works
Jimmy McCoy, WINC-AM’s coordinator allowed Patsy Cline to sing on his show in 1947 and her performance was so well received that she was called back again. This was her ticket to the commencing stage performances at local nightclubs. Cline performed in variety and talent shows in the Winchester and Tri-State areas, and she gained a large following through the shows and local radio appearances. Cline began to make a name for herself in the Washington, D.C., area and in 1949 wrangled a Grand Ole Opry audition with Jim Denny, but she was not offered a regular spot. She returned to Virginia, continued to build a local audience, and slowly made inroads into the music industry.
Jimmy Dean was already a country star in 1954, and Cline became a regular with him on Connie B. Gay’s ‘Town and Country Jamboree’ radio show on WAVA (AM) in Arlington County, Virginia. Bill Peer, her second manager, gave her the name Patsy, from her middle name, Patterson. (Bill Peer, who had a country music band in Brunswick, MD, also had an infant daughter named Patsy).
In 1955 Bill Peer gained a contract for her at Four Star Records, the label he was then affiliated with. Four Star was under contract to the Coral subsidiary of Decca Records. Patsy Cline signed with Decca at her first opportunity three years later. Her first contract allowed her to record compositions only by Four Star writers, which Cline found limiting. Later, she expressed regret over signing with the label, but thinking that nobody else would have her, she took the deal. Her first record for Four Star was “A Church, A Courtroom & Then Good-Bye,” which attracted little attention, although it led to appearances on the ‘Grand Ole Opry’ on ABC-TV. As these performances were not “records” per se, they were not governed by her contract, and she could sing what she wanted, within reason. This somewhat eased her “stifled” feeling.
Cline had to be cajoled into recording the song that signaled a turning point in her career. She lambasted “Walkin’ After Midnight” as a “Pop song” and resisted recording it. When she sang it on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts show in January 1957, however, the “Pop song” became an overnight sensation, eventually reaching number three on the country charts and number fifteen on the pop charts. This success should have opened the door to stardom for Cline, but 4-Star owner Bill McCall failed to invest the time and money to follow up the hit.
Between 1955 and 1957, Cline recorded honky tonk material, with songs like “Fingerprints,” “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down,” “Don’t Ever Leave Me Again,” and “A Stranger In My Arms.” Cline co-wrote the last two. None of these songs gained notable success. She experimented with rockabilly.
In 1957, Cline went through a turning point in her career when she appeared on ‘Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts Show’ and by giving a wonderful performance with her new composition, ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’, she won the competition.
Patsy Cline took first prize the opportunity to appear on Godfrey’s morning show for two weeks. She thereby gained national exposure both for herself and for her song. Three years later she became a regular performer on the ‘Grand Ole Opry’ radio broadcasts from Nashville, Tennessee, which largely defined the country music genre. Although Cline preferred traditional country music, which typically included vocalizations such as yodeling, the country music industry coming into increasing competition with rock and roll was trying to increase its appeal to a more mainstream audience. After her recording of “I Fall to Pieces” remained a popular seller for 39 consecutive weeks, she was marketed as a pop singer and was backed by strings and vocals. Cline never fully donned the pop music mantle, however: she did not eliminate yodeling from her repertoire; she dressed in distinctly western-style clothing; and she favored country songs especially heart-wrenching ballads of lost or waning love over her three popular songs “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and “Crazy” (written by a young Willie Nelson).
In 1957, Cline recorded “A Stranger in My Arms” and “Don’t Ever Leave Me Again,” written by friends Lillian Clarborne and James Crawford, the only known releases on which Cline contributed music (she could play piano by ear) under her birth name Virginia Hensley. However, Four-Star Records lists Cline as a contributor to Barbara Vaughn’s 1956 tune “Wicked Love,” leading to speculation that she may have cut a demo of the song. If so, it has never surfaced.
In 1959 Cline moved to Nashville with her husband, Charlie Dick, and their baby. When the contract with 4-Star ended in 1960, Cline signed a new contract with Decca and gained membership in the Grand Ole Opry. The Decca contract again placed Cline in the hands of Owen Bradley, who supplied her with a steady stream of material from the best songwriters in Nashville. This resulted in a string of pop-tinged hits penned by Willie Nelson, Hank Cochran, and Don Gibson. In 1961 Cline traveled to New York City with a troupe of Opry performers to play Carnegie Hall.
Through the early 1960s, Cline’s career started to take interesting turns as she was establishing herself in the country and pop music industry. She secured herself a role in the cast of the ‘Grand Ole Opry’ in Nashville, Tennessee.
Cline’s first release for Decca was the country pop ballad “I Fall to Pieces” (1961), written by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard. The song was promoted and won success on both country and pop stations. On the country charts, it slowly climbed to the top, garnering her first Number One ranking. In a major feat for country singers at the time, the song also hit No. 12 on the pop and No. 6 on the adult contemporary charts, making her a household name and demonstrating that women could achieve as much crossover success as men.
In 1962, Patsy Cline became a country-pop queen with her legendary song, ‘She’s Got You’. It earned the number one spot on country charts. This success gave her an opportunity to join the tour of country-singer, Johnny Cash. After this, she released a string of smaller country hits, including the Top 10 ‘When I Get Thru’ With You’, ‘Imagine That’, ‘So Wrong’, and ‘Heartaches’. These were not really big hits but still considered as successful compilations. Cline appeared on Dick Clark’s ‘American Bandstand’ and released her third album, ‘Sentimentally Yours’ in 1962. A month before her untimely demise, she was working on her fourth album, originally titled, ‘Faded Love’.
Death and Legacy
On March 5, 1963, Patsy Cline died in a plane crash in Camden, Tennessee, and was buried at Shenandoah Memorial Park in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia. Thousands of her fans attended her funeral. Her grave is marked with a bronze plaque, which reads: “Virginia H. Dick (‘Patsy Cline’ is noted under her name) ‘Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies: Love’.” With the help of Loretta Lynn and Dottie West, a bell tower was erected at the cemetery in her memory, which plays hymns daily at 6:00 p.m., the hour of her death. Another memorial marks the exact place off Mt Carmel Road in Camden, Tennessee, where the plane crashed in the still-remote forest.
‘Walkin’ After Midnight’, recorded in 1956 is considered to be Patsy Cline’s prominent work. The Track peaked at No. 2 on country charts and No. 16 on pop and made her the first female country singer to have a crossover pop hit. In her short career, however, Cline helped usher in the modern era for American country singers; she figures prominently, for instance, as singer Loretta Lynn’s mentor in Lynn’s autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter (1976). Cline was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973.
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.”
HBO released ‘Sweet Dreams: The Life and Times of Patsy Cline’, starring Jessica Lange in the lead role with Ed Harris and Ann Wedgeworth as her husband Charlie Dick and her mother Hilda Hensley in 1985. Lange was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance.