Birth of Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline was born Virginia Patterson Hensley on September 8, 1932, in Winchester, Virginia. When she was 13, she was hospitalized for a throat infection and rheumatic fever, which she said gave her a “booming voice like Kate Smith.”
Though Cline enrolled in high school, she didn’t attend and instead took jobs serving soda at a drug store and working as a waitress at a diner. She frequently stopped to watch the singers through the window at the radio station and began asking the disk jockey if she could sing on his show. He eventually said yes and she performed on his show in 1947.
Cline’s performance received some local attention so she was invited back. This also led to her being hired at local nightclubs. She would often wear fringed Western-style outfits her mother made. Cline soon began taking part in variety shows and built up a fan base. In 1953, she married Gerald Edward Cline. Though the marriage ended in 1957, she kept his last name.
In 1955, Cline got a contract with Four Star Records. While her first album received little attention, it did lead to her being hired by the Grand Ole Opry for a series of performances. In July 1955, she made her network television debut on the Grand Ole Opry.
Cline auditioned for Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in late 1956 and was accepted for the show early the next year. Her rendition of “Walkin’ After Midnight” not only won her first place but also made record executives sit up and take notice of her. Her recording of the song, made later that year for Decca Records, climbed to the top of the country charts and earned her a place on the pop charts – a feat far less common than it is today, especially for a female vocalist.
In 1958, Cline and her family moved to Nashville, where she found a new manager and signed to a new label. They believed her voice was perfect for country-pop crossover songs. Her first song on this label was “I Fall to Pieces.” It reached number one on the country charts, number 12 on the pop charts, and number 6 on the adult contemporary charts. Cline soon became a household name.
Cline’s success led her to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry cast. While in Nashville, she met and encouraged other women in the country scene such as Loretta Lynn, Dottie West, Jan Howard, and Brenda Lee. She would hire them and give them money so they could stay in Nashville and achieve their dreams. She also briefly met Elvis and occasionally sang with his backup group, The Jordanaires.
In June 1961, Cline was involved in a bad car accident, which nearly killed her. She spent six weeks in the hospital but returned to performing with crutches and a new lease on life. Her time in the hospital had taken her out of the spotlight, so she sought another hit, and it turned out to be “Crazy.” Another crossover hit, it would become Cline’s signature song. Cline’s next hit, “She’ Got You,” was her first to chart in the United Kingdom. She was then the first female country singer to perform at Carnegie Hall and headline her own show in Las Vegas.
In March 1963, Cline performed at a benefit concert in Kansas, despite being sick with the flu. On March 5, she boarded a private plane, however, the pilot was inexperienced and the weather was poor. The plane crashed that night and killed Cline and everyone aboard. She was only 30 years old. Even after her death, her single releases continued to sell well into the 1960’s, and her performances would go on to inspire female country artists even today.
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