From the collection
of India K. Jones




Patsy Cline

Born: Sep 8, 1932 in Winchester, Virginia.
Family: Mom, dad, brother Sam, sister Sylvia Mae.
Married: Gerald Cline (1953), Charlie Dick (1957).
Children: Julie (1958), Randy (1961).
Residence: 815 Nella Drive, Goodlettsville, TN.
Occupation: Country and pop singer.
Deceased: Mar 5, 1963 near Camden, TN.

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Biography

(The biographical information below is to a great extent taken from the book Honky Tonk Angel by Ellis Nassour)

Patsy Cline was born as Virginia Patterson Hensley on September 8, 1932, in Winchester, Virginia. Her mother was Hilda Hensley (born Patterson) and her father was Samuel Lawrence Hensley. Samuel had two children from a previous marriage, Tempie Glenn and Randolph, which then eventually became half sister and half brother to Patsy. Shortly after Patsy was born the family moved to Sam's birthplace just outside of Elkton, and between that time and up until when the family moved to Winchester (when Patsy was in the eighth grade), they moved nearly 20 times... Hilda Hensley died on Dec 10, 1998. A great loss for the family, and for all devoted Patsy Cline fans. Patsy's father died in 1956. Up until around the time when Patsy turned 20, she was mostly called "Ginny", but to avoid confusion, I will use the name "Patsy" throughout this presentation.

In the early years Patsy was very interested in dancing, and wanted to become a dancer. Her idol was Shirley Temple. Patsy was entered in a children's dance competition by her mother, and surprisingly she won first prize. But after that, Patsy suddenly lost interest in dancing, and was completely into music instead. First it was playing the piano, which she did by ear, and later it was singing. Patsy never did learn notes, and she hardly knew what key she sang in... But she sounded okay anyway...

She began her singing career in the Baptist church choir, and at the age of thirteen she became seriously ill. "I had a serious bout with rheumatic fever when I was thirteen", Patsy said in 1957. "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".

Because of that, and her great determination, the singing career was beginning. She started off in local radio shows, and by singing at dances, and by having the luck to meet the right people, she managed to get a recording contract with Four Star Records in 1954. In Winchester, Patsy had several different jobs in order to help her mother provide for the family: She had kitchen police duty at Gus Kaknis' Capital Restaurant (where her mother worked as a waitress), she worked as a waitress in the Red Wing Restaurant and in Sid Veasey's Triangle Diner, she worked behind the food counter at the Greyhound Bus Terminal, and as a clerk and fountain attendant at Gaunt's Drug Store.

From "The Patsy Cline
Collection" by MCA.
Photo by Les Leverett.
Some people say that Patsy had an unhappy childhood, but except the fact that her father deserted the family in 1947, when she was fifteen, she had a nice home life with her mother and her brother Sam (who for some reason was called John) and her sister Sylvia Mae ("Sis"). Patsy and her mother were more like sisters than mother-daughter, because Hilda gave birth to Patsy when she was only sixteen. (Hilda married Samuel six days prior to Patsy's birth, on Sep 2, 1932). And Patsy had some contact with her father again, in 1956, after he had been admitted to a hospital in West Virginia, due to lung cancer. Patsy and Hilda visited Sam at the hospital, and Patsy excitedly told her father that she had become a well known singer, and she said: "Daddy, you've never really heard me sing. I'm pretty good!". Patsy took farewell of her father in that hospital. He never got to hear his daughter sing... He died on Dec 11, 1956.

Back in 1953 Patsy Hensley married Gerald Cline, and thereby became Patsy Cline. The name "Patsy" (as opposed to "Virginia" or "Ginny") was suggested to her by Bill Peer, who helped her in the beginning of her career, and with whom she was said to have had an affair. Patsy and Gerald didn't have any kids. In 1956, when she was singing at a local dance, she met the love of her life, Charlie Dick, for the first time, and some time later she divorced Gerald and eventually married Charlie in 1957, and they had the children Julia Simadore, called Julie, (1958) and Allen Randolph, called Randy, (1961). Just after she had married Charlie, Arthur Godfrey asked her, "Are you happy?", and Patsy replied, "Just as happy as if I had good sense"...

On June 14, 1961, Patsy and her brother Sam were involved in a head-on car collision in front of Madison High School in Nashville. The impact sent Patsy through the windshield and nearly killed her, but due to some miracle she survived also this crisis... That was the second time she was near death... When Patsy was at the hospital, a new female singer by the name of Loretta Lynn, was singing Patsy's big hit "I fall to pieces" in a broadcast from the Ernest Tubb record shop, as a tribute to Patsy. Patsy liked it, and sent her husband Charlie down to the record shop to fetch Loretta and get her to the hospital, because Patsy wanted to meet this girl. And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship...

Due to the car accident, Patsy got a visible scar on her forehead, and because of that she wore wigs that covered the scar, at her public performances after the accident.

Patsy's recording career

The recording career divides into 2 periods: 51 tracks for Four Star Records in 1955 - 1960 and 51 tracks for Decca 1960 - 1963. All recording sessions, except two, were managed by producer Owen Bradley in Nashville. The two odd ones were held on April 24 and 25, 1957, and are believed to have taken place in New York, and the producer was probably Decca's Paul Cohen.

In the beginning of her career she was completely into country music, and recorded mostly up-tempo songs, and sometimes used to yodel and growl when she sang. But later on she more and more ended up singing slower ballads, more pop than country, but she was always making sure that she didn't get too much "uptown" pop into her recordings, because she was really a country girl at heart...

At first, she didn't have all that many hit records. The first one was recorded on Nov 8, 1956, and was called "Walkin' after midnight". But for some reason the record company didn't release it at once. Instead, Patsy got the opportunity to perform in the Arthur Godfrey Talent Show, and there she sang that song, and it was a total success! She was asked to sing an encore, and then she did Hank Williams' classic "Your cheatin' heart", which she, by the way, didn't put on record until Feb 1962. (She also did a new stereo version of "Walkin' after midnight" on Aug 25, 1961). But now, after the success in the Godfrey show, the record company released "Walkin' after midnight" in a hurry...

A funny thing about Patsy's first appearance in the show is that she was brought to the show by her mother, despite the fact that it wasn't allowed for kin folks to bring the artists... But, of course, after Patsy's big success nobody cared about that, least of all Arthur Godfrey, and I have a feeling that he knew all along...

Despite the success in the Godfrey Show, her next big hit (probably her biggest), "I fall to pieces" wasn't recorded until Nov 1960. But after that, the hits were coming fairly regularly, "Crazy", "She's got you", "Leavin' on your mind", just to mention a few. One funny thing is that before Patsy recorded these hits, she generally didn't like the songs at all... She said they were "too much pop"... But fortunately the producer, Owen Bradley, and others, managed to convince Patsy to record these songs... "Just sing them your way", they said, and of course, now we know that Patsy was many years before her time in her recordings... I think a song that was one of Patsy's personal favorites was "A poor man's roses (or a rich man's gold)". She really wanted to record that song, and she did, twice... Once in 1956 and once in 1961. And another favorite of her's is the gospel "Life's Railway to Heaven".

From "The Patsy Cline
Collection" by MCA.
Photo by Les Leverett.
One of Patsy's biggest hits, "Crazy", was recorded just after she was in the car accident, and they spent about 4 hours in the studio with that song, which was a lot in those days, but Patsy couldn't hit the high notes due to the pain from a broken rib... So the musicians went ahead and did it without Patsy, and she went home to rest, and when she came back two weeks later, she did the song in one take...

Patsy also had a number of big hits released after her death, among them "Faded love" and "Sweet dreams (of you)". In "Faded love", if you listen carefully at the end, especially when she breaths before the final word, you hear that she has almost started to cry... That was probably because the song was so close to her own life at the time, or maybe it just shows Patsy's genuine feeling and emotion... At first they discussed discarding that take and do a new one, but fortunately they decided to keep it... "Faded love" is a real treasure...

If you have the chance to listen to all or most of Patsy's recordings, please do that, because her songs really grow on you... They get better and better each time you listen to them. Patsy did record a few old standard songs, and even if you normally don't like those songs (for example "South of the border", "True love", "Always", "You made me love you"), you're bound to like Patsy's versions, because all of her recordings really are something special... Patsy was in the border zone between country and pop, and she really changed the course of country music, beginning a new era for female country music singers.

Patsy Cline was a fantastic singer with an unforgettable voice...

Movies

The movie about Patsy's life, "Sweet dreams", begins at the dance where Patsy and Charlie first met. Jessica Lange is doing a superb performance as Patsy, and Charlie is played eminently by Ed Harris. The music in the movie is from Patsy's original recordings (except "Blue Christmas" and "Rollin' in my sweet baby's arms" which are sung by Jamey Ryan), and if you haven't seen it I can really recommend it! It's a must see for a Patsy Cline fan, even though not all that happens in the movie is completely true... Some things have been added or changed to make it a "better" movie... Many people say that the movie is a little unfair to Patsy. She was much kinder and more generous in real life than in the movie, and she was not the hard drinking, partying type...

And another movie you also must see, is the movie about Patsy's close friend, Loretta Lynn, called "Coal miner's daughter", in which Patsy also plays an important role. Loretta Lynn is played by a fantastic Sissy Spacek, who also sings Loretta's songs in the movie, and Patsy is here played by Beverly D'Angelo, who also is a superb singer. Loretta's husband, Doo, is played by Tommy Lee Jones. I think that the portrait of Patsy in this movie is more accurate and to the point than the portrait that was made in "Sweet dreams".

From "The Patsy Cline
Collection" by MCA.
Photo by Hal Buksbaum.

The tragedy...

Well... Both these movies of course show the horrible plane crash that took Patsy's life... Her last concert was held in Kansas City at a benefit for the family of a local disc jockey, on March 3, 1963. And just before she went to this concert, a conversation took place at the Ryman Auditorium (where The Grand Ole Opry was held), between Patsy and Ray Walker, a member of the Jordanaires. Patsy was just leaving, and Ray said: "Patsy, honey", and she turned around, "be careful, baby, we sure love you...". And she was just starting to go down the stairs at the back entrance of the Ryman, and she turned her head over her shoulder and said: "Honey, I've been into two bad ones... The third one will either be a charm, or it'll kill me"... Those were the last words she said in the Ryman Auditorium...

Her manager, Randy Hughes, flew his yellow Piper Comanche over for the gig on the 3rd. The day after, March 4, they were supposed to fly home, but the weather was so bad, so they had to wait until the next day. The weather wasn't much better then, so they sat at the airport, waiting for it to clear. Randy Hughes kept checking the weather forecasts. When they had waited a few hours, Patsy's friend Dottie West asked Patsy if she wanted to go back with her in the car, and Patsy seriously thought about doing that, but just before they were going, Randy came and said that he thought it was alright to fly, because the weather had cleared in the Kansas City area... And Patsy decided to fly... The plane and its passengers, Randy Hughes, Patsy, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins, were last seen at the airfield in Dyersburg, Tennessee, 90 miles from home. "Why don't you stay the night?", the airport manager asked Randy Hughes. "I've already come this far", Hughes replied. "We'll be there before you know it".

The plane took off at 6:07 pm...

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