One of the first artists to achieve success in country and in popular music, Cline combined her country sensibility with her sophisticated, throaty voice and pop arrangements to make her music accessible to and loved by both audiences.
Born: September 8, 1932; Winchester, Virginia
Died: March 5, 1963; Camden, Tennessee
Patsy Cline was born Virginia Patterson Hensley, one of three children of Samuel Lawrence Hensley, a blacksmith, and Hilda Patterson Hensley, a seamstress. The Clines moved nearly twenty times before finally settling in Winchester, Virginia, when Cline was in the eighth grade. When Cline was fifteen, her parents divorced, reportedly because of her father’s heavy drinking. This forced Cline to quit high school to help her mother support the family, and she worked as a waitress and as a soda jerk. Cline had been interested in music since the age of eight, when her mother gave her a piano for her birthday, which she learned to play by ear. At thirteen, she had a serious bout with rheumatic fever, which she later credited as giving her the deep, throaty quality of her voice. Cline began singing in the Baptist church choir and then on local radio shows and at dances. In 1952 she met and married Gerald Cline, but in 1956 the couple separated. A year later, she married Charles Dick. She gave birth to a daughter, Julie, in 1958, and a son, Randy, in 1961.
Cline received her first national recognition on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in 1957, and she achieved the peak of her career in 1961. Cline was involved in a near-fatal automobile accident in 1961, and in 1963 she died in a plane crash, along with Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins, on a flight from a benefit concert in Kansas City to Nashville. The Music Early Works. Cline achieved a measure of local fame as a country singer in the Virginia-Maryland area through appearances on radio and especially as a regular on Connie B. Gay’s Town and Country television show, which also featured country singer Jimmy Dean, broadcast out of Washington, D.C. In 1955 she signed with Four Star Records, with the stipulation that she record only songs by Four Star writers. Between 1955 and 1957, she recorded fiftyone songs with Four Star; none of them achieved any notable success. All of the Four Star material was country, honky-tonk, and rockabilly style, including “Fingerprints,” “Pick Me Up on YourWay Down,” and “A Stranger inMy Arms.”
During this period, Cline made several appearances at the Grand Ole Opry. Country-Pop Crossover. At the insistence of her record label, Cline recorded "Walkin’ After Midnight," by Don Hecht and Alan Block, for her first album. The song proved so popular with the audience of the Godfrey show that it was released as the first single on her first album, Patsy Cline. The song was a hit on both the country and pop charts, reaching number two on the country charts and number twelve on the pop charts. Cline became one of the first country artists to achieve crossover success. In 1959 Cline began to work with a new manager, Randy Hughes, and in 1960 she signed a contract with Decca Records, working under the direction of producer Owen Bradley. With his use of arrangements and instruments more sophisticated than those previously found on country records, Bradley helped create, together with RCA’s Chet Atkins, what became known as the Nashville Sound.
This sound replaced the prevailing honkytonk style of country music with a smoother sound. Although Cline never liked the fact that she was singing pop rather than country material, she achieved her greatest success in these crossover recordings. Cline’s first recording for Decca, “I Fall to Pieces,” released in 1961 and written by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard, was her first number-one hit on the country charts, and it reached number twelve on the pop charts. The tremendous success of “I Fall to Pieces” and the national fame that it brought were followed by a serious car accident. However, after a month in the hospital, Cline came back stronger than ever, recording Willie Nelson’s "Crazy." Although she initially balked at recording it, “Crazy” became her signature song and a huge hit, landing in the Top 10 of the pop charts. Cline’s unprecedented success as a crossover artist continued with “She’s Got You,” written by Cochran, released in 1962, which became her second numberone hit on the country charts.
This was followed by the minor hits “When I Get Thru with You,” “Imagine That,” and “So Wrong.” Musical Legacy Cline was one of the most popular female country singers in recording history and one of the first performers to find success in both the country and pop music worlds. She was a pioneer of the Nashville Sound, and she paved the way for such crossover artists as Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. Cline was also the first female country artist to headline her own show and to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. She opened doors for female country artists, who previously had been sidelined in the music business. Cline enjoyed more popularity after her death than she did during her life.