Trouble and honey. This was the essence of Patsy Cline, as summed up by the singer herself. Really more honey than trouble, she was a feisty country persona with a soprano that dripped romance. Her place in the country music echelon... [more]
Trouble and honey. This was the essence of Patsy Cline, as summed up by the singer herself. Really more honey than trouble, she was a feisty country persona with a soprano that dripped romance. Her place in the country music echelon has the glow of legend, perhaps due in part to an early death that silenced her rising career after just three short years in the spotlight. Whether it's her sweet sounds or her tragic story, her fans -- the millions who pushed her songs to the height of the Top 40, the 25,000 who attended her funeral -- keep Cline a household name. Even non-aficionados find themselves unconsciously humming "I Fall to Pieces" almost 40 years after her death.
Born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932, Cline grew up with the entertainment bug. She tap-danced onstage for the first time at age four, and took up piano by age eight. But it wasn't until her teens that she began trying out that signature set of pipes. Through an audition, Cline won a trip to Nashville in 1948 to appear on the television show, "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scout." There she was spotted by Owen Bradley of Decca Records, who would go on to guide the singer throughout her career.
Cline recorded 17 singles in the mid-1950s, but without much commercial success. Her smooth style had not yet been cultivated -- sometimes she stiffly tried the rockabilly sound, sometimes she choked on overly sentimental religious material. These years did spawn one Top 20 hit, "Walkin' After Midnight" (1957). But Cline couldn't follow up the smash, in part because her recording contract limited her songs to one publishing company. It was only when her original contract expired in 1960 that her career dramatically blossomed. She and Bradley began selecting new material that better suited her sweet voice, and together they crafted an entirely new singing persona for Cline.
Cline was a crossover darling. More likely to be seen in gold pumps than cowboy boots, she refused the hillbilly or cowgirl image. Instead, Cline was the poster girl for the sophisticated new Nashville sound, which appealed to a wider pop audience. In fact, Bradley says his only problem was that she "had such a beautifully silky voice [that] it was hard to get country radio stations to play her records. We did try to rough those records up a little, so that maybe they'd be considered more country."
Out of the very first recording session came the 1961 pop-crossover hit, "I Fall to Pieces," which was followed by "Crazy" in 1962 (penned by an unknown Willie Nelson). The pop elements came in the form of lush orchestral arrangements and back-up vocals; the country shone through in the down-to-earth guitar and piano sounds. The resulting combinations are achingly romantic, displaying a Cline who is both adult and vulnerable.
But she never lived to see her celebrity story played out. In 1963, a plane crash took the life of Patsy Cline when she was only 30 years old. The plaque on her grave says, "Death cannot kill what never dies" -- an aphorism held as gospel to her legions of fans today. In 1973, Cline was the first female solo artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.