Country Music Singer, Songwriter, and Pioneer. She has been acclaimed, by fans, colleagues and music critics alike, as one of the most influential and unique vocalists in the history of modern music. She is often credited as a heroine by newer generations of female singers, who claim she opened doors to them in a business dominated by men in a career that only spanned five short years. She was best known for her rich tone, emotionally expressive and bold contralto voice. Born Virginia Patterson Hensley, her father was a blacksmith and her mother was a 16-year-old seamstress, and was the oldest of three children. She became familiar with music at an early age, singing in church with her mother. When her father left, she was forced to drop out of high school and work odd jobs to help support her family. After several weeks of watching performers through the window at her local radio station, she asked WINC-AM disc jockey and talent coordinator Jimmy McCoy if she could sing on his show. Her first performance on radio in 1947 was so well received that she was requested to come back and sing again. This led to performances at local nightclubs, wearing fringed Western stage outfits that her mother made from Patsy's designs. She started singing in variety and talent showcases in and around the Winchester, Virginia and Tri-State area, and coupled with increasing appearances on local radio, she soon attracted a large following. In 1954 Jimmy Dean, a young country star in his own right, learned of her and she became a regular with Dean on Connie B. Gay's "Town and Country Jamboree" radio show, airing weekday afternoons live on WARL-AM in Arlington, Virginia. In September 1953 she married Gerald Cline, a contractor who was considerably older than her and divorced him four years later due to her desire to sing professionally and his wish that she become a housewife. A few months later she married Charlie Dick, a linotype operator, with whom she would have two children. In 1955 her manager, Bill Peer, got her a contract at Four Star Records, the label with which he was then affiliated and also gave her the first name of Patsy, from her middle name and her mother's maiden name, Patterson. She was limited to recording songs composed by Four Star writers which she found unfulfilling. Her first record was "A Church, A Courtroom & Then Good-Bye," which attracted little attention but it led to appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. In the late fall of 1956, she auditioned for "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" in New York City, New York and was accepted to sing on the CBS-TV show on January 21, 1957. She was originally supposed to sing "A Poor Man's Roses (Or a Rich Man's Gold)," but the show's producers insisted she sing "Walkin' After Midnight" instead. Though heralded as a country song, recorded in Nashville, Godfrey's staff insisted that Cline appear in a cocktail dress rather than in one of her mother's hand-crafted cowgirl outfits. The audience's enthusiastic ovations pushed the applause meter to its apex, winning the competition for her. After the Godfrey show, listeners began calling their local radio stations to request the song, and she released it as a single. The song reached Number 2 on the country charts and Number 12 on the pop charts, making her one of the first country singers to have a crossover pop hit. From 1955 to 1957 she recorded honky-tonk songs like "Fingerprints," "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down," "Don't Ever Leave Me Again," and "A Stranger in My Arms," with her co-writing the latter two. In 1958, after the birth of her daughter Julie, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee. In 1959 she met Randy Hughes, a session guitarist and promotion man, and he became her manager and helped her change labels. When her Four Star contract expired in 1960, she signed with Decca Records. The same year, she realized a lifelong dream when the Grand Ole Opry accepted her request to join the cast, making her the only person to achieve membership in such a fashion, and became one of the Opry's biggest stars. During this time she befriended and encouraged female country music star newcomers Loretta, Lynn, Dottie West, Jan Howard, and Barbara Mandrell. Her first release for Decca was the country pop ballad "I Fall to Pieces" (1961). The song was promoted and won great success on both country and pop music stations. On the country charts, the song slowly climbed to the top, garnering her first Number One ranking. In a major feat for country singers at the time, the song hit Number 12 on the pop and Number 6 on the adult contemporary charts, making her a household name and demonstrating that women could achieve as much crossover success as men. She was known to be generous with her friends, buying them groceries and furniture, hiring them as wardrobe assistants, and occasionally paying their rent in order for them to stay in Nashville to pursue their dreams. In June 1961 she and her brother Sam were involved in a head-on collision in Nashville. The impact threw her into the windshield, nearly killing her. When help arrived, she insisted that the other car's driver be treated first. She spent a month in the hospital, suffering from a jagged cut across her forehead that required stitches, a broken wrist, and a dislocated hip. When she left the hospital, her forehead was visibly scarred and for the remainder of her career, she wore wigs and makeup to hide the scars, along with headbands to relieve the forehead pressure that caused headaches if left unattended. Six weeks later, she returned to the road on crutches with a new appreciation for life. Unable to capitalize upon the success of "I Fall to Pieces" due to her hospital stay, she sought another recording to reestablish herself. When introduced to "Crazy", a song written by Willie Nelson, she expressed a vehement dislike for the composition and the inaugural recording session was unsuccessful. With her ribs still hurting from the car accident, she was unable to reach the high notes. However, after several other attempts and a different approach to the instrumental recording of the track, coupled with a week's further healing of her ribs, she was able to reach the high notes and recorded her part in a single take. "Crazy" would ultimately become her signature song and by late 1961, it was a crossover success, straddling the country and pop genres, and reached the Top 10 on the both charts. It became her biggest pop hit, with it reaching Number 9 on the US Hot 100 and Number 2 on both the Hot Country Songs and the Adult Contemporary lists. In 1961 she became the first woman in country music to perform at New York's Carnegie Hall and the following year she headlined the famous Hollywood Bowl with Johnny Cash and became the first woman in country music to headline her own show in Las Vegas at the Mint Casino. In January 1962 she released "She's Got You," another crossover hit, reaching Number 14 on the pop charts, Number 3 on the adult contemporary charts (originally called "Easy Listening"), and as her second and final chart-topper, Number 1 on the country chart. She would never again enter the pop charts during her lifetime. Following this success, she released a string of smaller country hits, including the Top 10 "When I Get Thru' With You," "Imagine That," "So Wrong," and "Heartaches". In late 1962 she appeared on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" and released her third album, "Sentimentally Yours" in August of that year. On March 3, 1963 she performed at a benefit at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, Kansas City, Kansas for the family of disc jockey "Cactus" Jack Call, who had died in an automobile crash a little over a month earlier. She was unable to fly out the next day because the Fairfax Airport in Kansas City, Kansas was fogged in. Declining a car ride back to Nashville with country singer Dottie West and her husband, she boarded a Piper PA-24 Comanche plane, along with country performers Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas, and her manager Hughes, who was the pilot but was not trained in instrument flying. After making a fuel stop in Missouri and another landing at Dyersburg Municipal Airport in Dyersburg, Tennessee, the plane departed for Cornelia Fort Airpark, near Nashville, against the advice of the airfield manager. The flight encountered inclement weather and crashed in a forest near Camden, Tennessee on the evening of March 5, 1963, killing all on board. She was 30 years old and was one of the most influential, successful and acclaimed female vocalists of the 20th century. In 1973, she became the first female solo act to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1985, a full length feature film and box office smash, "Sweet Dreams", told her life story and revitalized interest in her music. Among her numerous posthumous awards, including a US Postal Stamp in 1993 and a 1995 Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. Her "Greatest Hits" album, released in 1967, continues to occasionally appear on the country music charts and was the longest album to stay on the country charts in country music history until Garth Brooks surpassed it in the 1990s. The album still holds the record for remaining on the country charts by a female artist. In 1999, she was voted Number 11 on VH1's special, "The 100 Greatest Women in Rock and Roll," by members and artists of the rock music industry. In 2002, country music artists and industry members voted her Number One on Country Music Television's "The 40 Greatest Women of Country Music" and ranked 46th in the "100 Greatest Singers of All Time" issue of Rolling Stone magazine.
Bio by: William Bjornstad