As a young, aspiring “girl singer” arriving in Nashville in the early Sixties, Loretta Lynn found a mentor in established artist Patsy Cline. Like Cline, Lynn was signed to Decca Records, produced by Owen Bradley, and a regular performer on the Grand Ole Opry. She may have landed in Music City a naïve Kentucky coal miner’s daughter, but she ended the decade as the reigning queen of country music.
Cline, however, would not live long enough to share in her friend’s greatest success. Fifty-seven years ago today, on the night of March 5th, 1963, the singer perished in a plane crash in Camden, Tennessee, west of Nashville. Also killed in the crash were Opry stars Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas, along with pilot Ramsey “Randy” Hughes, who was Cline’s manager and Copas’ son-in-law.
“When she died, I just about gave up. I thought this was the end for me, too,” Lynn said in her 1976 autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter, which was made into a hit film three years later starring Sissy Spacek in the Oscar-winning lead role. In August 1964, Lynn gave birth to twin daughters, naming one Peggy, after her sister, and the other Patsy, after the late singer.
For several years after her friend’s death, Lynn couldn’t bring herself to perform songs that had been popularized by Cline, but in April 1977 she finally released I Remember Patsy, an entire album devoted to the singer’s best-known hits, including “She’s Got You,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Leavin’ on Your Mind,” and “Faded Love.” In the televised appearance above, recorded around the time of the LP’s release, Lynn pays homage to Cline not by trying to imitate her, but by putting her unmistakable honky-tonk stamp on four of Cline’s biggest hits: “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Back in Baby’s Arms,” and “Crazy.”
On April 7th, Grand Central Publishing will release Me & Patsy: Kickin’ Up Dust, co-authored by Lynn with her daughter Patsy. The memoir, described in press materials “as a picture of two stubborn, spirited country gals who’d be damned if they’d let men or convention tell them how to be,” also includes a foreword by another longtime friend of Lynn’s, Dolly Parton. Late last year, Lynn’s youngest sister, Crystal Gayle, released an album of country covers titled You Don’t Know Me, featuring a trio performance with Lynn and their sister Peggy Sue Wright on Parton’s song, “Put It Off Until Tomorrow.”
One week after the release of Me & Patsy, on April 14th, Loretta Lynn will celebrate her 88th birthday.