Fifty-four years ago this month, three Grand Ole Opry members, including rising star Patsy Cline, were killed in a plane crash near
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
3. Her fascination with pop music developed at
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
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
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
10. Her legacy is undeniable.
In addition to performing with Johnny Cash at the Hollywood Bowl, she was booked into the Mint casino in