Friday, December 1, 2006

Patsy Cline (1932 - 1963)

Born in 1932 and christened Virginia Patterson Hensley (the family called her Ginny), she came from Winchester, Virginia and she signed her first contract as a country singer in 1953 aged 21 years. She took her stage name (Cline) from her first husband and "Patsy" was a suggestion from her friend Bill Peer, who helped her in the beginning of her career. To begin with Patsy sang rockabilly and would throw in the odd yodel and growl when she sang but it became obvious to all that her voice was best suited to pop/country crossover. Country’s gain was of course dancing’s loss and when Patsy was young she very interested in a career as a dancer with Shirley Temple as her hero. She contracted rheumatic fever which left her with a booming voice which thankfully she put to very good use. Patsy's career spanned eight years and she was with two record labels and recorded 100 tracks. She recorded with Four Star Records from 1955-1960 and then with Decca Records from 1960-1963. ‘Walking after midnight’ was her first big hit and by 1960 she became a mainstay on the country music showcase Grand Ole Opry.

Patsy's big break came when she won an Arthur Godfrey Talent program in 1957. When the record was released it was an immediate success. Much of the popular attraction of Patsy music was due to her producer Owen Bradley. He had moved traditional country music to a more radio-friendly format by adopting pop production and songwriting techniques. Steels guitars and fiddles complemented piano, backup vocals, and strings blended smoothly with strong vocals. Patsy found a place for her booming singing style. They continued to work together, even after Patsy changed recording labels. During the Decca years she was much freer and able to choose the songs she recorded. Her first choice was "I Fall to Pieces," with backup vocals by The Jordanaires, no less. Needless to say it reached number one in the country charts and number 12 pop charts. This was the first of several country-pop crossovers she was to enjoy over the next couple of years.

Whilst enjoying her fame in 1961, Patsy Cline and her brother were involved in a near fatal car accident. As a result she was permanently scarred on the forehead and wore wigs to cover her scar for public performances. While recovering in hospital, the singer heard a version of her hit record sang in tribute by a new country singer, called Loretta Lynn. Immediately Patsy dispatched her husband to fetch Loretta to her hospital bed, and this was the beginning of a very beautiful friendship. 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.

Long gone were her cowgirl outfits and now her stage outfits were more conventional as her appeal widened. Coping with challenges in her private life, her second marriage was dissolved and her weight blossomed. The singer's lifestyle changed and she was reputed to have had a torrid love affair with Faron Young. Despite a punishing schedule of professional engagements and in severe weather Patsy could not resist helping out with a benefit concert in Kansas City held for the family of a local disc jockey Cactus Jack who had died. The story is all too familiar, against meteorological advice a small plane took off in very poor weather. The actual cause of the crash remains unknown but the result is all too evident, Patsy and her travelling companions did not survive. Three other country singers were killed in the accident, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Randy Hughes, and Cowboy Copas. Patsy Cline's manager Randy Hughes was the pilot and he too perished. The tragedy did not end there and country singer Jack Anglin died in an automobile accident while driving to her funeral.

In her too short life, Patsy achieved many honors that most entertainers only dream of. She was a member of the hallowed Grand Ole Opry and had many hits on both the country and pop charts. Ten years after her death, Patsy Cline was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973, the greatest honour bestowed upon a country singer. She was the first woman to receive this honour. Sweet Dreams (1985) was bio-pic starring Jessica Lange as Cline and her character, played by Beverley de Angelo, also features in Coalminer’s Daughter (movie about Loretta Lynn).

There are many books on her life and collections of her music which still sell well. “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline” was a musical which originated in Canada in the 1990s and originally starred Louise Vallance as Cline. One of the most critically acclaimed tributes to Patsy Cline was Ted Swindley's stage musical production, "Always... Patsy Cline" starring Mandy Barnett and Tere Myers, which ran for several years and the show’s success in Nashville prompted a traveling show which received even more rave reviews. There is no evidence to support either show has been presented in Australia. There was a song Patsy was to record had she got back to Nashville but after her death, no artist not even her best friend Loretta Lynn wanted to record it. The song went unrecorded for over thirty years, until a young country singer was offered the chance to sing the song. To honour Patsy Cline her producer asked the artist to try to sing the song in Patsy Cline's style. Blue became LeAnn Rimes first #1 single.

Worth a listen:
I Love You, Honey (1956)
Walking after midnight (1957)
I Fall to Pieces (1961)
Just a closer walk with thee Patsy Cline

LeAnn Rimes

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