Country music pioneer Patsy Cline’s untimely death at the age of 30 left a crater in country music. Her rich sound tinged with her classic heavy vibrato became one of the most imitated styles in all of music.
But even more than that, her larger-than-life personality enraptured fans and contemporaries alike. She was no-nonsense when it came to business and all confidence when it came to hanging with the boys. In a time when women took the backseat, Patsy Cline drove the whole bus.
If not for that ill-fated flight on March 5, 1963, who knows what music Cline would’ve graced the world with. Born on Sept. 8, Cline would be 84 years old this year. In honor of her birthday, here are 10 things you didn’t know about Patsy Cline.
1. Her real name was Virginia
Patsy Cline was actually born Virginia Patterson Hensley. She took her first husband’s last name in 1953, and although the marriage only lasted four years and she later remarried, she kept the last name. Her second manager Bill Peer derived her stage name “Patsy” from her middle name when she got her first recording contract.
2. A childhood illness gave her that voice
According to documentary The Real Patsy Cline, Cline suffered a serious rheumatic fever and throat infection at the age of the thirteen. She was hospitalized for the sickness. When she recovered, she claimed her signature booming voice appeared.
3. She didn’t like some of her biggest songs
Patsy never really wanted to record “Walkin’ After Midnight,” but her label made her do it. She was signed to Four Star Records at the time and was only allowed to record songs by their writers, a prohibitive clause. Cline, who grew up worshiping country music, thought the song was too poppy. It peaked at No. 2 on the country charts and No. 16 on the pop charts. She also didn’t like the song “Crazy” when she first heard it, thanks to Willie Nelson’s spoken word style singing. The song became one of her signatures after she added her own twist and style to it, and also helped establish Nelson as a serious songwriter in Nashville.
4. She never finished high school
Cline dropped out of high school to help support her family after her father walked out on them. She worked the soda fountains at the Triangle Diner, a restaurant across the street from her high school. The diner was recently put on Virginia’s list of historic landmarks, thanks in large part to Cline working there for three years prior to her stardom.
5. She was one of the first pop-country stars
Though she grew up worshiping country music, Patsy Cline became one of the first true pop country crossover stars. Thanks to tunes like “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “I Fall To Pieces.” The latter became her first country No. 1 but also made it to No. 12 on the pop charts and No. 6 on the adult contemporary charts. It became the prototype for the commercial Nashville sound.
6. She had a special term for all her friends
The extremely amiable Cline called all her friends “hoss,” a term for a gentle giant. In 1959, the term gained more exposure thanks to the TV show Bonanza, but Cline was known to call people that long before the show. The also called herself “The Cline” in some instances and prided herself on being able to hang with the boys in any and every context. It’s one of the reasons she became the first female singer to headline shows with males on the bill.
7. She asked to join the Opry
The Grand Ole Opry inducted Cline in 1960 along with a host of others. Cline serves the honorable distinction of being the only artist to get inducted into the Opry after asking for it. She had appeared on the show for five years before asking general manager Ott Devine to be a part of the cast. He told her, “Patsy, if that’s all you want, you are on the Opry.”
8. She wasn’t a fan of recording
Perhaps it’s because she was so limited in the songs she was allowed to record early in her career, but Cline wasn’t a huge fan of recording music. Besides not being fond of some of her biggest hits, she rarely spent much time in the studio, and most of her songs only required one vocal take. She only played instruments on a few songs throughout her career, and expressed a desire to slow down in the months leading up to her death.
9. She was the first female country music star to play both Carnegie and have a residence in Vegas
Cline became the first female country star to play at Carnegie Hall in 1961, along with a cast of several other Opry stars. It was a huge change for the usually highbrow performance space. In late 1962, she also became the first female country star to have a residence in Las Vegas, at The Mint Casino.
10. She’s considered the greatest female singer in country music history
In 2002, CMT commissioned industry insiders and veterans to help them form the list of the greatest women in country music. They debuted the list in a TV special called CMT’s 40 Greatest Women of Country Music. Cline, unsurprisingly, landed at No. 1 on the list. She also made Rolling Stone‘s “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” list, coming in at No. 46. She is the highest ranked female country singer on the list.