90 years ago today, on Sept. 8, 1932, Virginia Patterson Hensley — known to country music fans as Patsy Cline — was born in Winchester, Va., to Sam and Hilda Hensley.
Cline’s father abandoned the family, which also included Cline’s two younger siblings, when the future country star was a teenager. To help support her family, Cline dropped out of school and performed several jobs, including singing on a local radio station. The exposure quickly earned the young singer a following, and she began performing regularly, including with Jimmy Dean on Connie B. Gay’s Town and Country Jamboree radio show.
Cline signed with Four Star Records in 1954. Although she was dissatisfied with her contract’s numerous restrictions, including only allowing her to record songs written by Four Star’s own writers, she did achieve her first big hit, “Walkin’ After Midnight,” while on the label.
In 1960, Cline signed with Decca Records. One year later, she released “I Fall to Pieces,” which was her first No. 1 hit; the song landed in the Top 15 on the pop charts as well. That tune was followed by “Crazy” and “She’s Got You,” both of which became big hits for the singer.
Also in 1960, Cline became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She maintained a busy touring and recording schedule until her unexpected death on March 5, 1963, in a plane crash.
On March 3, 1963, Cline performed three shows at a benefit in Kansas City, Kan., for the family of “Cactus” Jack Call, a disc jockey who had recently died in an automobile accident. She was unable to fly out the next day due to bad weather and refused Dottie West‘s offer to return to Nashville via car, reportedly saying, “Don’t worry about me, Hoss. When it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go.”
Cline flew out of Kansas on her private plane on the evening of March 5, despite continued bad weather. The plane crashed about 90 miles from Nashville, killing Cline, the pilot and two fellow Opry members, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins. Cline was 30 years old at the time of her death; she was survived by her second husband, Charlie Dick, and two children, Julie and Randy.
Cline was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973 and is considered one of the most influential pioneers in country music.
“She’s taken the standards for being a country music vocalist, and she raised the bar. Women, even now, are trying to get to that bar,” her producer, Owen Bradley, said. “If you’re going to be a country singer, if you’re not going to copy her — and most people do come to town copying her — then you have to be aware of how she did it.
“It’s always good to know what was in the past because you think you’re pretty hot until you hear her …,” Bradley continued. “It gives all the female singers coming in something to gauge their talents against. And I expect it will forever.”
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