Thursday, March 5, 2009

Patsy Cline

Virginia Patterson Hensley on September 8, 1932. She died 46 years ago today in an air plane crash at the age 30 and at the height of her career. You may know her better as Patsy Cline.

She was born and raised in Virginia - the oldest of three children. As a child, she often said she would be famous one day and was an admirer of Judy Garland and Shirley Temple. As a teen, she began singing on a local radio station. This was a great training ground for her and she soon went on to sing at popular nightclubs. She dropped out of high school at age 15 to help support the family after her father deserted them. She worked various jobs such as a soda jerk and waitress during the day and sang in the evenings at clubs.

In 1953, she married an older man named Gerald Cline. The marriage ended in 1957, in large part to the age difference and his lack of support for her desire to become a singing star. He wanted her to be a housewife. The other main factor was that she had an affair with her manager, Bill Peer. It was Peer who actually gave her the stage name of Patsy Cline - before that she was known as Ginny.

Her first record contract was with Four Star, but it was not a great match for her as the contract stated that she could only record country songs written by other Four Star artists - most of which were mediocre at best and never really showed off her potential as a singer. She did find some success and wider recognition when she was discovered by Jimmy Dean. She made several appearances on his local area show and even appeared on the Grand Ole Opry.

Patsy finally gained national attention in 1957 after she appeared on the Aurthur Godfrey Show. She convinced her mother to act as her scout - who in turn would introduce her as upcoming talent on the popular talent show. Patsy wanted to wear one of her trademark fringed western outfits that she had designed (her mother was her seamstress), but Godfrey insisted that even though she was singing a country song, she should wear an evening gown. She sang her new recording of "Walking After Midnight" and the audience applause meter went wild! She made regular appearances on the show over the next several months.

1957 was also the year she met her second husband Charlie Dick. Their daughter, Julie, was born in 1958 and the family moved to Nashville. Patsy signed a new deal with Decca in 1960 and started her rise to the top. Her first release was "I Fall To Pieces" which hit #1 on the country charts, #12 on pop charts and # 5 on contemporary adult! This was unheard of for a female country singer. Her dream of stardom was becoming a reality.

In 1961, another dream came true when she joined the Grand Ole Opry. Her generous nature was instrumental in helping to launch careers of other female country singers such as Loretta Lynn, Dottie West, Barbara Mandrell, Jan Howard and Brenda Lee. She was always willing to lend a helping hand - or a few dollars if needed. She also helped several male singer/songwriters such as; Roger Miller, Hank Cochran, Faron Young, Ferlin Husky, Harlan Howard, and Carl Perkins. She felt there was room for everyone with a dream.

Her second child, Randy was born in 1961. In June of that year, Patsy and her brother were involved in a near fatal car crash. When she was finally well enough to return to performing, she wore wigs and extra makeup to hide the scars. She also wore headbands to relieve the pressure on her forehead.

Later that same year, she recorded what would become her signature song - "Crazy" - which was written by Willie Nelson. Her star power was greater than even she imagined. Most female country singers were window dressing for the higher paid male headliners, but Patsy was the first to actually headline her own show and the first female artist to be featured in Las Vegas. She was a much loved and respected power on both sides of the microphone. She spent hours signing autographs and meeting fans after concerts.

In the months before her death, Patsy confided to several friends that she felt that her time on Earth would be short. She had been in two car crashes in her life and felt a third accident would either be the charm or kill her. She rewrote her will and even gave away some of her possessions. On March 3, 1963, she and several others gave a benefit show in Kansas City, Kansas. Dottie West wanted her to drive back with them rather than fly home on the Piper Comanche in the winter weather, but Patsy insisted that she wanted to get home to her kids and that when it was her time - it was her time. The plane crashed about 6:20PM on March 5 just outside of Camden, Tennessee. Patsy, her manager/pilot Randy Hughes, singers Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins all died in the crash.

Nashville, the nation and music lovers around the world were in shock.

"Sweet Dreams," "Leavin' On Your Mind" and "Faded Love" were all released posthumously and became country hits. Her legacy has lived on and endured with numerous re-releases of her heartfelt, soulful contralto sound resonating through every note. One can only imagine just how far this gifted woman could have gone. There have been several books, documentaries, tributes and other accolades given to this amazing artist over the last 46 years. Many artists have been influenced by her work.

I'd heard of Patsy Cline many times over the years, but it wasn't until the release of the movie "Sweet Dreams" (1985) starring Jessica Lange as Cline, that I realized just how much of an incredible talent had been lost. Like millions of others I bought "The Patsy Cline Story" which was a collection of 24 of her greatest songs. I don't think I could really pick a favourite out of all of them as every track is a masterpiece in itself. I've been listening to it as I type this post and am still moved by the power and sultryness of her voice. Her recordings, draw you in to the point where you can't help but feel the message of the song.

Like many others, I have also sung a few Patsy Cline tunes over the years. I usually chose "Crazy" or "Sweet Dreams" as I could really feel the depth of the lyrics and melody as I sang. And like all the others I could never do justice to the lady herself, so I found a couple of videos that I hope will give you just a taste of the one and only - Miss Patsy Cline.


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