Cline, Patsy (originally, Hensley, Virginia Patterson)

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Cline, Patsy (originally, Hensley, Virginia Patterson)

Cline,Patsy(originally,Hensley,Virginia Patterson), one of country’s best-known vocalists, still celebrated nearly 30 years after her death; b. Winchester, Va., Sept. 8, 1932; d., in a plane crash en route to Nashville, Term., March 5, 1963. Cline was among the first country stars to make the crossover into mainstream pop, and undoubtedly if she had lived she would have become a middle-of-the-road chanteuse. Whether this would have been a step forward or backward for country music depends very much on one’s attitude toward the increasing commercialization of Nashville’s musical product in thel960s.

Growing up in Winchester, Va., Cline won an amateur talent contest as a tap dancer at the ripe old age of four; she began singing soon after. Trained on the piano, she performed in the local church choir as well as in school plays. Winning an audition with Wally Fowler of the Grand Ole Opry when she was 16, young Cline so impressed him that he invited her to Nashville; however, she was unable to obtain a recording contract, and eventually returned to her home town. She performed throughout her high school years, eventually signing with the local Four Star label in 1956. Her 1950s recordings were unexceptional, although she did score one hit in 1957 with “Walkin’ after Midnight” after performing it on the Arthur Godfrey Talent ScoutsTV program, leading to a contract with Decca Records.

Cline worked with producer Owen Bradley from 1957 to 1960, originally in a fairly standard country mold, gaining moderate success on the country charts. It wasn’t until 1961’s “Crazy” (written by Willie Nelson), followed by “I Fall to Pieces” (co-written by Harían Howard and Hank Cochran) that her characteristic, sad-and-lonesome vocal sound fell into place. A brief two-year hit-making career followed, including “When I Get Through with You,” “Leavin’ on Your Mind,” and the posthumously released “Sweet Dreams.”

Cline’s death in an airplane accident, along with stars Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas, helped solidify her place in the country music pantheon. She combined a lonesome country vocal sound with fairly smooth, popish delivery, thus bridging the gap between honky-tonk singer and pop chanteuse. Many country stars cite her as an influence, including Loretta Lynn, who was befriended by the older performer when she first came to Nashville, and, of course, new country star k.d. lang, who has ventured into the same big-throated pop style that made Cline famous. (Her original backup band, the re-clines, was named in homage to the earlier singer.) Cline’s lasting impact was reinforced in 1986 by the release of the Hollywood film Sweet Dreams, starring Jessica Lange.


Her First Recordings, Vols. 1-3 (1950s-era recordings); Live, Vol. 2 (radio transcripts made between 1956 and 1962); Patsy Cline (1957); Patsy Cline Showcase (1961); Patsy Cline’s Golden Hits (1962); Sentimentally Yours (1962); In Memo-riam (1963); Encores (1963); A Legend (1963); Reflections (1964); A Portrait of Patsy Cline (1964); That’s How a Heartache Begins (1964); Today, Tomorrow, Forever (1964); Gotta Lot of Rhythm in My Soul (1965); Stop The World and Let Me Off (1966); Greatest Hits (1967); The Last Sessions (1980); Try Again (1982); Sweet Dreams (film soundtrack; 1985); Live at the Opry (1988); Live—Vol. Two (1989); The Birth of a Star (1996); Live at the Cimarron Ballroom (1997).


Jones, Margaret, Patsy: The Life and Times of Patsy Cline (N.Y., 1996).

—Richard Carlin

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Cline, Patsy (originally, Hensley, Virginia Patterson)

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