10 Things We Learned From the New Patsy Cline Documentary - Rolling Stone
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10 Things We Learned From the New Patsy Cline Documentary

Singer’s formidable talent, difficult upbringing and her mother’s $10,000 little white lie highlight the latest edition of ‘American Masters’ on PBS

Fifty-four years ago this month, three Grand Ole Opry members, including rising star Patsy Cline, were killed in a plane crash near Camden, Tennessee. The March 5th, 1963, tragedy also took the lives of Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas and pilot Randy Hughes, who was the son-in-law of Copas and Cline’s manager at the time.

A prodigiously talented vocal stylist who embraced country music and orchestrated pop sounds in the wake of rock & roll’s emergence, at the time of her death Cline had scored crossover hits with “Walking After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces” and the Willie Nelson-penned “Crazy.” Still, her musical and cultural impact wouldn’t reach its zenith until years after her passing.

Beginning March 4th, in celebration of Women’s History Month and also marking the 85th anniversary of her birth, PBS will showcase Cline in their American Masters series with a documentary narrated by Rosanne Cash and featuring appearances by numerous women influenced by Cline, including Reba McEntire, LeAnn Rimes, Wanda Jackson, Kacey Musgraves, Rhiannon Giddens, Terri Clark, Margo Price, Mickey Guyton, Dottie West, Mandy Barnett and actress Beverly D’Angelo. Among the men who are interviewed are Ricky Warwick of the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy, and archival clips of Willie Nelson, Carl Perkins, and songwriters Harlan Howard and Hank Cochran, who co-wrote “I Fall to Pieces.”

Here are 10 things we learned from Patsy Cline: American Masters.

1. Nearly 20 years after her death, she inspired the performance of a Golden Globe-nominated actress.
Beverly D’Angelo, who says the Opry legend had the most profound impact on her life, played Cline in the 1980 Oscar-winning film Coal Miner’s Daughter and did all her own singing in the film.

 2. As a child, she never stayed in one place for long.
Cline was born Virginia Patterson Hensley on September 8th, 1932, and was called “Ginny.” By the time she was 16, her family had moved 19 times.

3. Her fascination with pop music developed at Washington and Lee University.
Her father worked as a boiler man at the university and the family lived on campus. From her bedroom window, Ginny could hear big bands performing and would mimic the bands. Her mother eventually took Ginny and her brother and moved to Winchester, Virginia.

4. Her professional career began when she was just 14 years old.
Ginny was regularly singing in bars and supper clubs and appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in August 1949 when she was 16. She had first auditioned for the long-running radio show when she was still underage.

5. She had a job that was, quite literally, cutthroat.
One of her earliest jobs was slitting the throats of chickens at a meat-packing plant, also when she was underage. Other jobs included cleaning Greyhound buses and working in a drugstore while singing at night.

6. Her mother played the role of her “talent scout” on TV.
In January 1957, Hilda Hensley introduced her daughter, who was now married to Gerald Cline and going by the name Patsy Cline, on the CBS series Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts, an early precursor to American Idol and The Voice. Hensley didn’t identify herself as Patsy’s mother and when Godfrey asked, “You’ve known her all her life?” Hensley replied, “Yes, just about.”

7. Her early cowgirl image would change after that TV appearance.
Hilda Hensley designed most of Patsy’s cowgirl-inspired outfits. After singing “Walking After Midnight” on Talent Scouts and winning $10,000, which she gave to her mother to pay the mortgage on their house, Cline was approached by a female producer of the TV show who suggested she get away from the cowgirl outfits and dress more cosmopolitan. Bright red lipstick became one of her trademarks and occasionally she also wore men’s pants, much to the consternation of Grand Ole Opry officials when she became a member in 1960.

8. Her life would change when she met Charlie Dick.
Cline was singing with a group called the Kountry Krackers band when she met the man who would become her second husband. Shortly after they met, Charlie was drafted into the U.S. Army. After her divorce from Gerald Cline, she and Charlie were married at Hilda’s house in September 1957 and would move from Virginia to Nashville. They had two children, Julie, born in 1958, and Randy, born in 1961. They were married until Cline’s death. Charlie died in 2015.

9. A car crash nearly ended her life in 1961.
In January 1961, “I Fall to Pieces” was released, becoming her first Number One hit. On June 14, 1961, Cline and her brother, Sam, were involved in a near-fatal head-on collision in Nashville. She would have permanent scars and chronic pain for the rest of her life, but would appear onstage at the Grand Ole Opry supported by crutches – and her fans – just a few weeks later.

10. Her legacy is undeniable.
In addition to performing with Johnny Cash at the Hollywood Bowl, she was booked into the Mint casino in Las Vegas for 35 nights. After playing a benefit in Kansas City on March 3rd, 1963, she told her concerned friend Dottie West, “Don’t worry about me, hoss. When it’s my time to go, it’s my time.” Rough weather would contribute to the plane crash that ended her life two days later. Her funeral in Winchester, Virginia, attracted a crowd of 25,000 mourners. She would be the first solo female artist inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in October 1973. Always… Patsy Cline, a musical play inspired by her friendship with fan Louise Seger, would first star teenager Mandy Barnett and go on to be performed throughout the world. In 2005, Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits was certified diamond for sales in excess of 10 million. It remains one of the best-selling country albums by a female artist of all time and is in the Guinness Book of Records, holding the title for the most weeks an album by a woman has spent on the country chart.

In This Article: Patsy Cline


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