Patsy Cline, Legendary Country Music Singer

patsy cline
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Patsy Cline (born Virginia Patterson Hensley; September 8, 1932—March 5, 1963) was a country singer who crossed over to become a pop star with her signature hits "I Fall to Pieces" and "Crazy." She died at age 30 in a tragic plane crash at the peak of her career.

Fast Facts: Patsy Cline

  • Born: September 8, 1932 in Winchester, Virginia
  • Died: March 5, 1963 in Camden, Tennessee
  • Known For: One of the top voices of all time in country and pop music who died in a tragic plane crash.
  • Spouse: Charlie Dick
  • Children: Julie and Randy
  • Top Songs: "Walkin' After Midnight" (1957), "I Fall to Pieces" (1961), and "Crazy" (1961)
  • Key Accomplishment: First solo woman inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (1973)
  • Notable Quote: "If I made a list of the people I admire, Mom would probably fill up half of it. She could do anything and everything."

Early Years

Born in Winchester, Virginia, Patsy Cline was the oldest of three children. At age 13, Cline spent time in the hospital recovering from a throat infection and rheumatic fever. Later in life, she said that "when I recovered, I had this booming voice like Kate Smith."

Although officially enrolled, Cline never attended high school. Instead, she worked as a soda jerk and a waitress to help support her family. In 1947, she asked a local DJ if she could sing on his radio show. He agreed, and she received favorable comments for her performance and was invited to return. The engagement led to professional singing in local nightclubs.

patsy cline
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Patsy Cline performed in live shows throughout the tri-state area of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland. By 1954, she had become a regular with country star Jimmy Dean on Connie B. Gay's Town and Country Jamboree radio show.

First Recording Success

Patsy Cline's second manager, Bill Peer, gave her the professional name Patsy based on her given middle name, Patterson. In 1955, he negotiated her first recording contract with Four Star Records. They were affiliated with Coral, a subsidiary of Decca Records.

Cline recorded a series of honky-tonk style country songs for Four Star that gained little attention. However, in 1957, the song "Walkin' After Midnight," originally intended for pop singer Kay Starr who rejected it, appeared. Patsy Cline didn't like the song, but she agreed to record it if she could also record a song called "A Poor Man's Roses (Or a Rich Man's Gold)."

Booked for her first national TV appearance on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, Cline changed the song she would perform at the last minute when Godfrey's producers said they preferred "Walkin' After Midnight." The live studio audience's reaction was ecstatic. Released shortly after the TV appearance, the song landed at #2 on the country chart and #12 on the pop chart. Patsy Cline was a new star.

Country Stars At An Event
Country musicians Ferlin Husky and Patsy Cline pose for a portrait at an event in circa 1960 in Nashville, Tennessee. Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Car Crash and Aftermath

Although she became a cast member of Nashville's the Grand Ole Opry in January 1960, Patsy Cline had difficulty finding a follow-up hit. Finally, in 1959, she hired a new manager, Randy Hughes, and he helped her change labels. Cline began recording for the main label Decca Records in Nashville with the producer Owen Bradley, who had helped Brenda Lee and Loretta Lynn become stars.

Patsy Cline's first single for Decca was "I Fall to Pieces" released in 1961. It became her first #1 country hit and climbed to #12 on the pop chart. Unfortunately, she didn't get to celebrate for long. On June 14, 1961, Cline was involved, along with her brother Sam, in a head-on car accident. The injuries sustained in the collision were nearly fatal.

Pop and Country Star

Determined not to let the car crash slow her career progress, Patsy Cline recorded the song "Crazy" in August 1961 while on crutches. She said that pain from her injured ribs made it hard to reach the high notes. Despite the circumstances around the recording, "Crazy" became a hit and one of Cline's signature songs. It reached the top 10 on both the country and pop charts.

Photo of Patsy Cline
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

With the follow-up hit singles, "She's Got You" and "When I Get Thru With You," Patsy Cline was both a country and pop star. She became the first woman in country music to headline at New York's Carnegie Hall. Cline appeared on TV's American Bandstand with host Dick Clark in 1962.

Patsy Cline Death

On March 3, 1963, Patsy Cline performed at a benefit concert for the family of a Kansas City, Kansas, disc jockey who died in a car accident. She was unable to fly back to Nashville the day after the show due to dense fog. On March 5th, she took off from Kansas City in a private plane piloted by her manager, Randy Hughes. They stopped in Missouri to refuel and Dyersburg, Tennessee. The manager at the airport there suggested they spend the night due to inclement weather, but Hughes refused.

patsy cline crash site
Site of fatal plane crash that killed Patsy Cline. Thomas R. Machnitzki / Creative Commons 3.0

Patsy Cline's plane crashed that evening in a forest near Camden, Tennessee. Investigations revealed that all on board the plane died instantly. Thousands of fans attended her memorial service, and two posthumously released singles, "Sweet Dreams" and "Faded Love," reached the top 10 on the country chart.

Despite having such a short recording career, Patsy Cline is recognized as one of the top singers of all time. Rolling Stone magazine lists her among the top 50 singers of all time, and she is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.


  • Nassour, Ellis. Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline. Chicago Review Press, 2008.