On The Fringe
Virginia Patterson Hensley, better known to the Country Music world as Patsy Cline, was born in Winchester, VA on September 8, 1932. She was the oldest of Sam and Hilda Hensley's three children.
At the age of 13, Patsy developed a serious illness that almost took her life. Cline was quoted in 1957 as saying, "I had a serious bout with rheumatic fever when I was thirteen. I developed a terrible throat infection and my heart even stopped beating. The doctor put me in an oxygen tent. You might say it was my return to the living after several days that launched me as a singer.The fever affected my throat and when I recovered I had this booming voice like Kate Smith's."
In June 1961, Patsy had another brush with fate. She and her brother Sam were involved in a head-on car accident. The force of the impact sent Patsy through the windshield nearly killing her. It was during her recovery in the hospital that her friendship with Loretta Lynn was forged. Patsy heard Lynn singing a tribute to her on a broadcast from the Ernest Tubb Record Shop. Lynn sang Patsy's hit, "I Fall To Pieces," so well that Patsy sent her husband, Charlie Dick, to fetch this singer because she wanted to meet this girl. Thus, a beautiful friendship was formed.
Patsy's career spanned eight years on two record labels with approximately 100 tracks recorded. She recorded with Four Star Records from 1955-1960 and then with Decca Records from 1960-1963.
Her first big hit was "Walkin' After Midnight" in 1957. This was released after a successful appearance on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Show. Her next hit didn't come until four years later with "I Fall To Pieces." After that, the hits were more frequent and she became an overnight sensation. Her producer, Owen Bradley, was a pioneer of the Nashville Sound. Most of the songs that he presented to Patsy were met with disapproval. He told her to "sing them your way" and she took these songs and made them into her own. We will always associate such great songs as "Crazy," "Sweet Dreams," "Walkin' After Midnight," "I Fall To Pieces," "Faded Love," and "She's Got You" with the great Patsy Cline.
Many young artists today pay tribute to Patsy by singing her songs. There have been many movies, books and stage productions which pay tribute to the legend. Her music has influenced many over the years since her death. One of the most critically acclaimed tributes to Patsy Cline is Ted Swindley's stage musical production, "Always... Patsy Cline" starring Mandy Barnett and Tere Myers, which ran for several years at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The show's success in Nashville prompted a travelling show which received even more rave reviews. The cast was different, but the show itself went over very well.
Patsy's life tragically ended on March 5, 1963 when the airplane, in which she was a passenger, crashed in the mountains near Camden, TN. The plane was owned and piloted by her manager, Randy Hughes. The other two passengers were "Cowboy" Lloyd Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins. They had been in Kansas City performing in a benefit show for the family of a local disc jockey. The weather was too bad to fly so they had to spend the night after the show. They waited all of the next day and Patsy was going to drive back with her good friend Dottie West, but the weather cleared up enough to fly, so she left with her entourage. They were last seen at the airfield in Dyersburg, TN, approximately 90 miles from Nashville, where they'd stopped to refuel. The airport manager suggested that they stay the night after advising of high winds and inclement weather along the flight path, but Hughes responded, "I've already come this far. We'll be there before you know it." Unfortunately, they never made it to Nashville.
In her too short life and career, Patsy achieved many honors that most people only dream of. She was a member of the hallowed Grand Ole Opry and had many hits on both the country and pop charts. Ten years after her death, Patsy Cline was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the greatest honor bestowed upon a country singer. She was the first woman to receive this honor.
Patsy's graveside marker says it the best, "Death can not kill what never dies..." Patsy's music and spirit will live forever. She was, and is, one of the greatest voices in country music history.
Written by Sherry Anderson. January 2001, Countrypolitan.com.
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