Country singer Patsy Cline's career was in full swing, with pop Top 40 hits and national concert tours, when she was killed in a plane crash at the age of 30. Her honeyed soprano has been emulated not only by country singers like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton but also by pop singers like Linda Ronstadt.
Cline took up the piano at age eight but didn't begin singing until her teens. In 1948 she won a trip to Nashville through an audition; nine years later she appeared on TV on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts and was spotted by Owen Bradley of Decca Records. Her first record, "Walkin' After Midnight," was both a country hit (#3) and a pop hit (#12) in 1957.
She was soon one of country music's biggest stars. Despite her numerous country hits, she sought a broader audience and refused to be saddled with a hillbilly or cowgirl image. Under Bradley's direction, she came to embody the smooth, sophisticated new Nashville sound. "I Fall to Pieces" was a pop hit (#12) in 1961, followed later that year by "Crazy" (#9 pop, #2 country), a song written by a then little-known writer named Willie Nelson. She had another pop Top 20 hit with "She's Got You" (#14) in 1962.
On March 5, 1963, Cline was returning from a Kansas City, Missouri, show when the single-engine plane her manager was piloting crashed. Over 25,000 people attended her funeral. In 1973 Cline became the first woman solo artist elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Actress Jessica Lange played the singer in the 1985 biopic Sweet Dreams; its soundtrack climbed to #29 on the U.S. LP chart. Cline's memory remained alive in the '90s, thanks to a flood of reissues, box sets, unreleased live albums, anthologies, and radio-session compilations. At least five musical plays about the singer's life, including A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline and Always...Patsy Cline, were presented in North America and Europe. As of 1999, her Greatest Hits collection (MCA, 1973) had sold over 7 million copies.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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