Even decades after her untimely death, Patsy Cline remains a country music icon. Her records are responsible for the advent of the Nashville Sound, which blended country and pop music and introduced country to a whole new audience in the early 1960s.
A March 5, 1963 plane crash near Camden, Tennessee took her life when she was just 30 years old. Patsy Cline will always be the woman whose voice broke the mold and changed country music forever. Here are ten things you may not know about the country legend.
She Was Once Known as Ginny
Though she became known around the world as Patsy, Cline was born Virginia Patterson Hensley. Her manager, Bill Peer, gave her the name "Patsy" from her middle name. Patsy married her first husband, Gerald Cline, in 1953. She kept her surname as her stage name.
She Began Performing Professionally at 14
While working as a soda jerk and a waitress, Cline entered a variety of talent shows in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia. Having watched performers through the windows of the local radio station, Cline approached a disc jockey about performing on his program. Patsy was a hit. Soon, she had regular gigs at the regional night clubs.
A few years later, Cline made it on to Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, a popular talent search program similar to American Idol. She performed "Walkin' After Midnight," which helped catapult the track to No. 2 on the country charts and No. 12 on the pop charts. Cline became one of the first country artists with a major crossover hit.
She Couldn't Read Music
According to the documentary Remembering Patsy, Cline couldn't read sheet music. Of course, that didn't stop her from becoming a musical genius. She was self-taught and had perfect pitch even as a child.
She Was a Trailblazer
Patsy didn't care much for rules. To the disdain of some Opry members, Cline broke gender norms by becoming the first woman to wear pants on the Grand Ole Opry, which she petitioned to join. She didn't believe female singers needed to be submissive or demure. She was proudly outspoken and bold. Cline was also the first female country singer to headline in Vegas. Even after her death, Cline continued to set records. In 1973, she became the first solo female artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Patsy Cline's Greatest Hits, released four years after her death, is one of the all-time best-selling country records by a female artist.
She Was a Favorite Among Songwriters
If you were a songwriter in the early 1960s, a sure way to get a hit was to have Patsy Cline record your song. But it was more than just commercial success. Songwriters loved the magic that Cline brought to their lyrics. Willie Nelson called Patsy's recording of "Crazy" his "favorite all-time song of mine that anyone ever did." Some of Nashville's finest songwriters penned Cline's hits. Mel Tillis wrote the slow-burning "Strange." Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard penned, "I Fall to Pieces." Along with producer Owen Bradley, Cline defined the Nashville Sound and topped both the country charts and pop charts.
She Was a Kind and Loyal Friend
"The Cline," as she called herself, was outspoken, brazen and bold, but she was also incredibly kind and loyal. In Remembering Patsy, Roy Clark recalled how Cline refused to record a song Clark had planned to release himself out of respect for her fellow artist. She was especially supportive of other female artists. When Cline was in the hospital following a near-fatal head-on car crash, she reached out to Loretta Lynn. Cline took Lynn under her wing, giving her makeup tips and clothes to wear on stage. She was also close friends with Dottie West, June Carter, Jan Howard, and Brenda Lee.
She's Been Portrayed By Two Golden Globe Nominees
Acclaimed actress Jessica Lange portrayed Cline in the 1985 TV movie Sweet Dreams: The Life and Times of Patsy Cline. Beverly D'Angelo was nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Patsy in the Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner's Daughter.
Her Earliest Songs Were Honky Tonk and Rockabilly
Though she's known as an innovator of the slick and polished Nashville Sound, Cline's earliest records for labels like Four Star were rollicking and raw. Though the recordings weren't Billboard chart successes, they were proof of Cline's range. Rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson was even influenced by Cline.
Her Fans Still Write Her Letters
On March 5, 1963, Cline was traveling on a private plane owned by her manager Randy Hughes. The aircraft was in-route from a benefit concert for DJ "Cactus" Jack Hall in Kansas City, Missouri back to Nashville when it crashed near Camden, Tennessee. The Patsy Cline fan club put up a mailbox at the Tennessee crash site for fans to leave notes to the country legend. The memorial is especially fitting for Cline, who shared a close relationship with her fans.
The plane crash also took the lives of fellow country stars Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins.
Fans can also pay tribute to the icon at the Patsy Cline Museum in Nashville and Cline's gravesite at Shenandoah Memorial Park in Winchester. Cline is buried next to her husband, Charlie Dick, who she referred to as the "love of her life."
She Inspired a Play
Based on the true story of Patsy's friendship with Houston housewife Louise Seger, Always...Patsy Cline debuted in 1988. The play was performed at the Ryman Auditorium in 1994 with Mandy Barnett as Patsy. The play has since premiered Off-Broadway.
This story previously ran on March 5, 2020.