Personalities | Patsy Cline | Nashville & Beyond | Country

One of country music’s most influential and enduringly popular figures, Patsy Cline managed to transcend with seeming effortlessness the uneasy rift between traditional country music and the more urbane Nashville sound that emerged full-blown in the late 1950s.

Crossover Diva

Cline was one of the few female artists at the forefront of the emerging Nashville sound. With her smooth yet intensely emotional vocal style, she almost effortlessly bridged the gap between country and pop audiences. She did this by combining the spunk and fervour of honky-tonk and old-time country with the vulnerability of a pop diva. The best of her music has never gone out of print, and her commercial masterpieces – hit singles such as ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’ (1957), ‘I Fall To Pieces’ (1961), ‘Crazy’ (1961), ‘She’s Got You’ (1962) and ‘Sweet Dreams’ (1963) – sound as timeless today as when they were first released.

First Taste Of The Big Time

Born on 8 September 1932, Patricia Patterson Hensley, in Winchester, Virginia, Cline came from a broken home and was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, who was a gifted amateur singer. ‘Ginny’, as she was then called, started out singing at churches and local get-togethers. During her formative years, she was indelibly influenced by older singers such as Kay Starr, Kate Smith, Charline Arthur and 1920s chanteuse Helen Morgan. Feisty and outspoken, Cline left school at age 15 to begin her single-minded pursuit of a music career. By age 20, she had her first small taste of the big time when she began singing with Bill Peer, a country bandleader who enjoyed regional popularity in northern and central Virginia.

It was around that time that she adapted the stage name, Patsy, from her middle name, Patterson. Before long, she was a regular player in the thriving country music scene that had sprung up in Washington, D.C., by the early 1950s. By late 1954, she was appearing regularly on Town & Country, a regional television show created and produced by local music mogul Connie B. Gay, on which other then-local celebrities like Roy Clark and Jimmy Dean also appeared regularly.

Years Of Celebrity

Through contacts made in Washington, Cline landed her first recording contract with the Four Star label, in Pasadena, California. Her debut single release, a mournful ballad called ‘A Church, A Courtroom And Then Goodbye’ attracted little attention when it was released in July 1955 by Decca Records, in a leasing agreement with Four Star. Her next three singles were also unsuccessful.

By this time, Cline had already been in and out of Nashville several times and had appeared on the Grand Ole Opry. But it was her January 1957 appearance on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, a nationally televised show, that suddenly launched her to stardom. Within weeks she had the No. 2 spot in the Billboard country charts with ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’. The record was produced by Owen Bradley, who would serve not only as...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, consultant editor Bob Allen


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