How singer Patsy Cline’s powerful voice has resonated through the decades

Patsy Cline at Click Americana

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Patsy Cline was more than just a singer — the lady was a powerhouse, a trailblazer, and a voice that could cut through even the most hardened hearts.

In her short but impactful life, she managed to change the landscape of country music forever, shaping the genre into what it is today.

Singer Patsy Cline at Click Americana

Patsy Cline’s early life & career

Born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932 in Winchester, Virginia, Patsy got her start in the local church choir. Her mother introduced her to music, and the girl took to it like a duck to water. It didn’t take long before she found her way into the local radio station, where she started her journey to stardom.

She was signed to Four Star Records in 1954, but it wasn’t until she switched to Decca Records that her career really started to heat up.

With Decca, she released her breakout hit “Walkin’ After Midnight” in 1957, a tune that not only took the country charts by storm, but also crossed over into pop, showcasing her immense versatility.

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Standing up for fair pay

Patsy’s deep, resonant voice and her emotionally charged delivery set her apart in an era dominated by traditional gender norms. She challenged these old standards, becoming one of the first female country artists to command respect and fair pay in the industry — famously standing up to venue owners who tried to shortchange her, and setting a precedent for other women in country music.

In 1961, she released “Crazy,” written by a then-unknown Willie Nelson. This song became one of the most popular jukebox songs of all time, and marked a defining moment in Patsy’s career. The song’s success helped her break barriers, and cemented her place in country music history.

Patsy Cline: American Masters

Patsy Cline’s tragic plane crash

Tragically, Patsy’s life was cut short in 1963 when she died in a plane crash at just 30 years old — at the peak of her career. Luckily for us, her legacy lives on in the music she left behind. Her boldness, her raw talent, and her unwavering commitment to authenticity have made her a true legend in country music.

Patsy Cline in western cowgirl dress with fringe

Patsy Cline’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame

In 1973, Patsy was the first woman to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and she has been cited as an influence by countless musicians. Today, she continues to inspire with her powerful, emotionally charged music that remains timeless.

So here’s to Patsy Cline, an iconic voice that truly changed the face of country music. Read on for a variety of features and photos published both before and after her death.

Vintage Decca press photo of singer Patsy Cline

Singer Patsy Cline in double comeback (1962)

By Lane Talburt – Abilene Reporter-News (Texas) September 13, 1962

Just a year ago, Patsy Cline staged a double comeback — a comeback for her career and for her life.

On June 14, 1961, the vocalist was critically injured in a car accident near her Nashville, Tennessee, home. She lost eight pints of blood and suffered a dislocated and broken right hip, a fractured right arm, and a deep gash on her forehead. [In the early news stories about this crash, she was listed under her married name, Mrs Virginia Dick.]

Patsy Cline Heartaches single (1962)

Two weeks later, shortly after she was taken off the hospital’s critical list, Patsy learned that her career comeback record, “I Fall To Pieces,” had reached the top of rock and roll and country and western tune charts.

It was her first big record since 1957, when she released “Walking After Midnight,” a 1-1/2-million seller.

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Patsy Cline for WINC in western wear with fringe

Miss Cline related the story of her successful return to show business to a reporter following her first stage performance at the West Texas Fair on Wednesday night. The talented singer will conclude her two-day appearance at the fair on Thursday, entertaining at the free midway show at 7 and 9:30 p.m.

“It looks like not only have the people given me a second chance,” Miss Cline said of her career, “but that God has given me a second chance. And the word ‘thank you’ will never be big enough to thank the people.”

Vintage singer Patsy Cline looking over her shoulder

Show business came to Miss Cline at an early age — when she was 4 years old, to be exact. She won a tap dancing contest in Lexington, Virginia, near her home in Winchester.

By the time she was 15, she was making regular appearances, which continued until she finished high school. Then came several club engagements and a recording contract on a small label.

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In January 1957, she was accepted for Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, singing “Walking After Midnight.” In September of that year, she married an Army soldier, Charles Dick.

Patsy Cline signing an autograph (1962)

She dropped out of show business in 1958 to start a brief career as a housewife and mother. Mr and Mrs Dick now have two children, a girl named Julia, 4, and a boy named Randy, 20 months.

Just after she had returned to her singing career last year, Miss Cline was involved in a head-on automobile collision in which two persons in the other car were killed.

“It was quite a coincidence that ‘I Fall To Pieces’ made No. 1 the second week I was in the hospital,” she commented. “That was a hard way to live up to publicity.” But two months later, in August, Miss Cline was released from the hospital, and immediately flew to Dallas to do a show.

Patsy Cline Showcase with the Jordanaires album

Since her recovery, she has recorded “Crazy” and “She’s Got You,” which she performed for the two show crowds on Wednesday night. “So a girl can’t ask for much more of a comeback than that, I’ll tell you,” she said.

After concluding her two-day engagement at the fair on Thursday night, Patsy and her husband, a newspaper linotype operator who accompanied her to Abilene, will go to Dallas on Saturday. And that’s the day the couple will celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. On Sunday, they will return to Nashville and their children.

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The late Patsy Cline: ‘She was ahead of her time’

The Anniston Star (Alabama) March 5, 1977

Country music great Patsy Cline died in a plane crash 14 years ago this month, but her legacy survives.

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“Crazy,” Linda Ronstadt’s current release, is an old Patsy Cline song. So was “Sweet Dreams,” a big hit last year by Emmylou Harris. Her records sell today. Radio stations continue to play her songs. Fans put flowers on her grave in Winchester, Virginia.

Says her widower, Nashville record company executive Charlie Dick: “People talk to me about her all the time.”

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On March 5, 1963, Miss Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas, and their pilot, Randy Hughes, were killed when their plane crashed during a thunderstorm near Dyersburg, Tenn.

She was at the crescendo of her career, with seven hits in three years. Many felt she had displaced Kitty Wells as the top female country singer.

Country and pop singer Patsy Cline

Patsy Cline’s husband

For Dick, time has trimmed the tears and the torment. With composure and commemoration, he talks willingly about her tragic death.

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“I was tore up for some time,” he recalled in an interview in his office, a picture of Miss Cline nearby. “I was good friends with the others killed, too. Their relatives and I sort of put it all back together. Dottie West was a good friend of Patsy’s. She and Loretta (Lynn) asked me to go on the road with them to get me away from things.”

Patsy Cline in Billboard Apr 13, 1963

“She was ahead of her time, definitely. She’d still be on top today, still selling records with no problem at all. You still hear her songs on the radio, but you’d hear a lot more except that she didn’t have much in the can when she died. She was one of the first to cross over (into the pop field).

“Her records aren’t dated; there’s not that much difference from what you hear today. A lot of people are trying to sing like her. She had mass appeal — more than just country.”

Patsy Cline's husband Charlie Dick (1977)

Dick, who remarried in 1965 and divorced in 1972, was supposed to be on the ill-fated flight. But he stayed behind because the single-engine plane was crowded.

“We had been to Birmingham and landed in Nashville just long enough for me to get off before they headed on to Kansas City,” he said. “I was lucky.”

Walking after Midnight - In memoriam album (1963)

Patsy Cline’s children

Miss Cline, who was 30 when she died, has a daughter, Julie, 18, and a son, Randy, 16. “Julie sings a little around the house,” Dick said. “Her voice is a little higher than Patsy’s. She looks a little like her mother.”

Miss Cline, whose biggest hit was “I Fall to Pieces,” was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973. “It tickled the kids especially,” Dick said. “Julie has Patsy’s awards all over her wall.”

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Loretta Lynn salutes real great friend

By Jack Hurst – The Belleville News-Democrat (Illinois) May 1, 1977

One Thursday evening in 1963, a young and struggling Loretta Lynn visited the home of Patsy Cline. Patsy, then the foremost female in country music, had recorded a new album, and invited Loretta and her husband to hear it.

Earlier that day, Patsy had visited Loretta’s newly-purchased Nashville home and surprised her with some curtains she had bought for the living room. Then that night she gave Loretta a large box of her ornate clothes, and the two of them made plans to go shopping the following Monday for some furniture for Loretta’s house.

Patsy Cline portrait - Restored - Click Americana

That weekend, Patsy was to do a benefit in Kansas City. “She told me she’d give me $50 if I’d go with her,” Loretta recalls. “But I had an engagement on Saturday night that paid $70, so I told her I’d better go on and take that one.”

Leaving Patsy’s home that Thursday evening, Loretta suddenly laid the box of clothes on the front of Patsy’s Cadillac and ran back. “I almost forgot to kiss you,” she said.

She kissed her. Patsy, who had talked that night about intrigues among country music’s female vocalists, smiled. “Gal,” she said, “no matter what happens, you and me are gonna stick together.”

4 Opry stars die in crash newspaper headline (March 6 1963)

Sunday evening, Loretta went to bed early instead of listening to the radio, as she usually did. She got up early Monday to clean her house so she and Patsy could go shopping. When her housework was done, she reached for her telephone.

“What I was gonna say,” she recalls with typical candor, “was, ‘Get your lazy tail up out of the bed — we’re goin’ shoppin’.'”

The telephone rang in her hand. Loretta soon learned that Patsy had died Sunday night in the plane crash that is still country music’s worst tragedy, having taken the lives of Grand Ole Opry stars Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Patsy, 29 — the trade magazines’ top female country vocalist of 1963.

Patsy Cline plane crash scene from the Jackson Sun (Jackson, Tennessee) March 6 1963
Patsy Cline plane crash scene from the Jackson Sun (Jackson, Tennessee) March 6, 1963

Today, nearly 14 years later, one of the most popular current country records is “She’s Got You,” a Loretta Lynn recording of a Patsy Cline classic. A Lynn MCA album titled “I Remember Patsy” has just been released.

But it was only within the post year that she could make herself sing — much less record — any of her late friend’s music, Loretta discloses. Some songs on “I Remember Patsy” betray her emotion.

She says she was only able to do it at all because she “heard” Patsy tell her she could.

Loretta Lynn album cover - I Remember Patsy

Loretta doesn’t remember how long it was after the plane crash before she and her husband went to Patsy’s house. There they found a lot of people “sitting around in the kitchen eating and drinking. I don’t know if they were drinking coffee, whiskey or Coke; it was all the same to me,” she says. It angered her, and she went out and sat in the living room, alone with the coffin.

“All of a sudden I felt cold,” she remembers. “Then I heard her say (although I don’t know if anybody else could’ve heard it if they’d been there), “Well, turn up the damn heat.”

Patsy Cline in 1960

Today, Loretta recalls an article about country star Dottie West which described Patsy Cline as “a boozer and a cusser.”

It so upset Loretta that she protested to the publisher. “Patsy’s not here to defend herself,” she explains. “And she wasn’t like that. And it’s nobody’s business, anyway.”

She reflects a moment, then adds more quietly, “Patsy came up rough, just sort of jerked up by the hair of her head, I guess. But she never done anything any worse than anybody else, or as bad as most.

“So it’s not right to say things about her. Patsy took a lot of my problems with her to her grave. I’m gonna go to mine with a lot of hers.”

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