Patsy Cline

Patsy Cline was born Virginia Patterson Hensley on September 8, 1932 in Winchester, Virginia. Her brush with show business came at age four when she won a prize in an amateur tap dancing contest. By the time she entered grade school, her family was fully aware of her musical talent. On her eighth birthday, her mother presented her with a piano, on which Patsy learned more music patterns. On Sundays, she sang with the local church choir, and at age 14, was singing regularly on local radio station WINC (she got the job by walking fearlessly into the station and asking for an audition). When Patsy was 15, her parents divorced, reportedly due to her father’s heavy drinking. Without her father around to pay the bills, Patsy helped her mother earn money by singing in local clubs in the evenings, and by day, was working at the local drug store, which led to her dropping out of high school a year later. In 1948, Patsy maneuvered herself backstage when ‘Wally Fowler’ brought his music show to her hometown. Patsy impressed Fowler with her singing, and he gave her the opportunity to audition to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. However, to her disappointment, the Opry reps said that she would not be ready for big-time country radio.

Patsy returned to Winchester and continued to sing in local clubs. She met and married Gerald Cline in 1952. That same year, she was featured in Bill Peer’s Melody Playboys of Brunswick, Maryland. Peer got Patsy her first recording contract with Four Star Records in 1954. In late 1955, Patsy became a regular on the radio show “Town and Country Jamboree”, a country-western program that broadcast in Washington, D.C. In 1957, Patsy finally got her big break when she appeared as a contestant on the television variety show Talent Scouts (1948), hosted by Arthur Godfrey. For her first television appearance, she selected a torch song she sang a year earlier, “Walkin’ After Midnight”. She won first place and became a regular on the show for the next two weeks. “Walkin’ After Midnight” was released as a single and put Patsy on the top ten charts of country and pop music. However, her determined drive and ambition put a large strain her marriage and kept her away from her husband; as a result, Patsy and Gerald divorced soon after her television debut. In the late 1950s, Patsy put a hold on her career and married a second time, to Charlie Dick, and together they had two children. However, when she returned to singing, the long hours that kept her away put another strain on the marriage.

In 1960, Patsy was finally invited to join the Grand Old Opry and the following year she scored with her second single, “I Fall to Pieces”. Producer Owen Bradley took advantage of Patsy’s rich voice and backed her with lush string arrangements rather than the twangy sound of steel guitar, which was typical for country-western singers at the time. Anxious to be true to her roots, Patsy often expressed a desire to yodel and growl on her records, but she understood that this smoother sound was giving her career a major boost and used it during the next two years of album recordings. In March 1963, Patsy traveled from Nashville to Kansas City, where on March 5, 1963, she appeared at a benefit concert for the family of disc jockey Jack McCall, who had been killed in a traffic accident earlier that year. Immediately after her performance, she boarded a small plane back to Nashville along with country-western performers Cowboy Copas, Harold Hawkshaw Hawkins and pilot Randy Hughes. Approximately 85 miles west of Nashville, the plane ran into turbulence and crashed. There were no survivors. Shortly before her death, Patsy recorded the single “Sweet Dreams”, which became #5 on the country charts after her untimely death at age 30 (her best-known song, “Crazy”, was written by future country-western legend Willie Nelson). Ten years after her death, Patsy Cline was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the first female soloist chosen for the honor.

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