Introduction to a country-pop music legend
Patsy Cline is still considered one of the most influential singers even over fifty years after her death in 1963. One of the earliest artists of the Nashville sound, Cline scored hits such as the classics: “Walkin’ after Midnight.” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Crazy,” “She’s Got You” and others. Cline was just one of the female country singers of her time who had successfully crossed over to the pop charts, and the first female country singer to receive the top billing over the male artists she toured with. She also headlined her own show, something which was considered rare at the time for a female artist. She has become the inspiration for all the female singers no matter what the generations after her and no matter what genre. Cline, who figured previously in two life-threatening accidents, died at the age of 30 from a plane crash in 1963, but her legend and influence still live on.
Beginnings and rise to fame and crossover success
Country and pop singer Patsy Cline was born Virginia Patterson Hensley in Winchester, Virginia on September 8, 1932. Her mother was 16 years old while her father was 43 at the time of her birth. She learned discovered her affinity for music when she was younger when she got to sing in a local church.
Hensley then graduated to performing on the radio as well as local talent shows. She eventually married her first husband Gerald Cline in 1953; the couple divorced in 1957. A matter of weeks after the divorce, she married her second husband Charlie Dick. Hensley was christened by her manager Bill Peer with the stage name Patsy Cline (the “Patsy” from Hensley’s middle name Patterson, and “Cline” of course the last name when she first got married).
In 1955 Patsy Cline signed her first contract with Four Star Records, which was affiliated with Decca Records. In her years with Four Star, she recorded a total of 51 songs, but only one of them became a true hit — 1957’s “Walkin’ after Midnight” (at #12 pop, #2 country). “Walkin’ after Midnight”‘s superb chart performance was one of the first instances of a country-pop crossover success.
Despite this, Cline continued to have problems with Four Star. She was only allowed to record songs that were penned by Four Star’s songwriting publishing arm, and she found these rules to be limiting to her talents. This explains that in her early singles, Cline sounded rather stiff and lacking confidence, a far cry to her best work. Cline also tried and experimented other genres, among them honky tonk and even rockabilly.
Things took a better turn in 1960 when her Four Star contract expired; Cline then signed to Decca Records, allowing her to select recording material which she deemed it to be of much better quality than her previous singles. She also became the protégé of record producer Owen Bradley, one of the pioneers of the “Nashville Sound.” Bradley also lent a big impact on the careers of other female singers such as Brenda Lee and Loretta Lynn.
Cline had always insisted that she was, first and foremost, a country singer; Bradley thought that her voice was more suited to pop/country-pop style. Bradley had once attempted to get Cline to sing torch songs, but she would always panic just at the thought of it.
This time, Cline had to subject herself to Bradley’s lush (and more pop) Nashville sound arrangements, which she was still scared of. Another thing that she was anxious about was the group the Jordanaires who were appointed as her backing vocalists. She thought that the Jordanaires would drown out her singing. However, after she listened to her recording she realized Bradley’s opinion about her was right. She actually ended up liking the end result. The Jordanaires, whom she initially held in dislike, eventually became her good friends; the group also became the backing vocalists for another friend of Cline’s, no less than “The King” Elvis Presley.
The result of Cline’s collaboration with Bradley came to be “I Fall to Pieces” (1961), which also was her first Decca single. The single, which was written by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard, became a success on both country and pop charts, at #1 and #12, respectively, and launched Patsy Cline as a household name. She also proved that female singers could also be as capable of achieving major crossover chart success as their male counterparts were. Patsy Cline had finally found her own musical identity.
Around this time, Cline also became the first female country artist to receive the top billing above the male artists whom she toured with. Along with another country star Kitty Wells, Cline became the inspiration for future female singers that they too could be big stars and outdo male artists in this regard. In 1960 Cline joined the Grand Ole Opry — which had been her lifelong dream — and became one of the event’s biggest stars.
In 1961, Cline was involved in a severe car accident that almost took her life. Still, she bounced back and came out even stronger with another single “Crazy,” written by Willie Nelson. It became Cline’s biggest pop hit, crawling into the Top 10 at #9; it also peaked at #2 on both country and easy-listening singles charts. The success of “Crazy” once again demonstrated Cline’s undeniably huge crossover appeal. Since her death, “Crazy” has been widely re-recorded by several artists.
She was still at the peak of her success when she was killed in a plane crash on March 5, 1963. Patsy Cline was 30 years old at the time of tragedy. She was a major star for only a couple of years but after her death, her legend only grew. Patsy Cline’s influence still remains palpable and continues to be the inspiration of other female singers regardless of genre.