Known as one of the greatest country singers of all time, Patsy Cline's influence far exceeded her success in any one genre. And yet, her story is one of music's more tragic tales. Born Virginia Patterson Hensley on September 8, 1932, she was only 30, and at the height of her career, when she died in a private plane crash on March 5, 1963. Nevertheless, she remains one of the most enduring female voices of the twentieth century and beyond.
Where Loretta Lynne had her brassy style and Kitty Wells boasted her hillbilly holler, Patsy possessed a voice so searing and emotional, she seemed to actually inhabit the songs she sang. Her hits -- "Walkin' After Midnight," "I Fall to Pieces," "Crazy," and "Sweet Dreams" among them -- still resonate, and while there have been countless covers, inevitably it's her original renditions that are best remembered and enjoyed. Inevitably, her accomplishments continue to accumulate well after her death, and her impact on modern music remains large even today.
Here are musical milestones for which la reina Patsy Cline is still remembered.
• A decade after her death, in 1973, Cline became the first female solo artist to gain entry into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2002, she was named CMT's number one on the TV channel's 40 Greatest Women in Country Music. It may be even more telling that she placed prominently in Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, defying any attempt to typecast her strictly as a country singer. Also of note, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1999, only a year after she was nominated.
• Self-taught and, by her own description, raised on the wrong side of the tracks, Cline possessed a voice with perfect pitch, a fact that was all so obvious in her recordings. Her big break came when she approached a local deejay on a radio station in her home town and asked him for an audition. Her radio debut in 1947 was so successful, it led to a string of radio and local club engagements.
• Cline's recordings not only helped jumpstart the careers of several soon-to-be successful songwriters, i.e. "Crazy," penned by Willie Nelson, "I Fall to Pieces," written by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard, but also became mainstays on both the country and the pop charts. Both songs were big with both country and pop audiences. This was and is a rare feat for those commonly classified as country singers, and even a rarer achievement for a woman.
Ironically, Cline herself never believed she had the potential to score success outside of the country genre, but her producer, Owen Bradley, encouraged her to trade in her honky tonk arrangements for lush strings and the torch song style that later brought her to a much wider audience.
• Unlike many of the women that came before and many that came after, Patsy was no patsy when it came to managing her career. She was the first female country music star to headline her own touring show and receive higher billing than the male stars that accompanied her.
Likewise, her band didn't merely back her; she performed with them as part of a cohesive unit. What's more, she wasn't intimidated by the males who dominated the business. She demanded payment prior to going on stage, frequently proclaiming "No dough, no show!" Toward the end of her life, she was reportedly making no less than $1,000, per appearance, an extraordinarily high sum at a time when most women performers received less than $200 a show.
• Among her other "firsts," Cline was the first female country music singer to perform at Carnegie Hall, playing there along with other Opry artists. She also achieved a career milestone by headlining the Hollywood Bowl. In addition, Cline became the first woman in country music to headline her own show in Las Vegas, setting the precedent for countless artists who came after.
• Patsy was seen as a trendsetter when it came to her costumes. While her mother designed the homespun cowgirl outfits she wore early on, once she moved further into the mainstream, she began opting for elegant gowns, cocktail dresses, spiked heels, dangly earrings, ruby red lipstick, and gold lane pants. It was a shockingly risqué image at the time, but one that came to represent country music's more fun and sometimes sophisticated style.
• Patsy Cline's popularity still endures and her albums continue to enjoy substantial sales. In 2005, her Greatest Hits collection was certified Diamond, marking sales of ten million copies. The 2005 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records proclaimed it the longest charting title of all time by a female artist. Likewise, her recording of "Crazy" has been named the number one jukebox hit of all time. "I Fall to Pieces" placed number seventeen.
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