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Patsy Cline: The Legend Continues To Grow (1995)

Patsy Cline grows even brighter this month with the addition of the Lifetime Achievment Award to her list of honors.

Originally published in the March 7, 1995 issue of Country Weekly featuring Patsy Cline on the cover. This story is presented here in its entirety.

Patsy Cline: Her Legend Continues to Grow

Patsy Cline grows even brighter this month with the addition of the Lifetime Achievment Award to her list of honors. She’ll be inducted along with Peggy Lee, Henry Mancini, Curtis Mayfield and Barbra Streisand by the Grammy organization. Meanwhile, her Greatest Hits album remains high on the Billboard magazine charts since its release some seven years ago including 165 straight weeks at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s “recurrent” chart.

Patsy, a strong woman willing to show tenderness in her voice, has attained immortal status in today’s country music scene, judging by the praise from top country stars and hard-earned dollars spent by fans on her albums.

Patsy died March 5, 1963, when a small plane carrying her, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas crashed, limiting her legacy to a handful of classics, such as “I Fall to Pieces,” “Sweet Dreams (of You),” “Crazy” and “She’s Got You.” They were more than enough to win her fame in her own day and ours: She will be honored this week as the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences the group that hands out the coveted Grammy Awards.

“She had the emotion where you believe every word she sang,” said Trisha Yearwood, one of many singers who cites Patsy as an influence.

“Patsy had the type of soul that’s so hard to find in a singer,” complimented k.d. lang, who sought out Patsy’s producer, Owen Bradley, to direct one of her best albums. Lang’s band, The Reclines, were named in honor of Patsy.

Willie Nelson, who has had songs recorded by a Who’s Who of entertainers, stated simply, “Patsy’s version of ‘Crazy’ remains my favorite of any of my songs recorded by anybody—it’s magic.” Reba McEntire included a Cline song on each of her first three albums, and “Sweet Dreams” was one of her earliest hits. Lari White performs “Walkin’ After Midnight” in her concerts; Martina McBride sings “Crazy” in her live shows. Other devoted Patsy fans include Mary Chapin Carpenter, Crystal Gayle and Anne Murray. The music of Patsy still echoes off the walls of the Ryman Auditorium in the play Always...Patsy Cline, which will be returning for a second season.

Loretta Lynn summed up her personal and professional relationship with Cline by commenting: “She was my closest friend, my protector, my inspiration. And she was the first woman in country music to step out of the boundaries they had been placed in.” The subject of books, movies (such as Sweet Dreams, released in 1985), songs, tall tales and short stories, Patsy Cline resides today atop Billboard magazine’s Top Country Catalog Albums chart with her Greatest Hits album.

In the realm of country music, Patsy is in the same class as such legends as Hank Williams Sr., Jimmie Rodgers and Jim Reeves. Like Williams, Rodgers and Reeves, Patsy’s life ended early. She was only 30 when the plane carrying her, manager Randy Hughes, and singers Copas and Hawkins crashed near Camden, Tenn. Her songs remain as soulful and heartfelt as ever. MCA Records in 1988 presented Patsy on compact disc, and her emotion-wrenched ballads came through with a new clarity, a new strength, to millions of new fans. The Greatest Hits album made its debut at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s catalog albums chart when the chart was created four years ago. Before that it had spent even more time on the Top Country Albums chart.

March was always a meaningful month for Patsy. On March 2, 1957, she gained her first chart record, “Walkin’ After Midnight.” On March 3, 1962, she hit with one of her biggest records, “She’s Got You.” A year and two days later, she died. Born Sept. 8, 1932, near Winchester, Va., Patsy possessed the potent combination of musical talent and a burning drive to become a Grand Ole Opry star.

By age 10, she sang and danced. Grammar school years saw her in the studio of Winchester, Va., radio station WINC, talking her way into a regular spot on the Saturday morning air with Joltin’ Jim & his Melody Playboys. When she was 16 she earned a guest spot on a touring Opry show, but her big break came when appearing on the nationally televised Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. Singing “Walkin’ After Midnight,” Patsy won first prize and, soon, a recording contract with Decca Records. “Walkin’ ” became an instant debut hit, zooming the new artist all the way to No. 2 on the country chart and No. 12 on the pop chart.

Following her divorce from builder Gerald Cline, Patsy married Charlie Dick, who’s still active in the Nashville music scene. The big hits started coming in 1961. “I Fall to Pieces” soared to No. 1. “Crazy,” the follow-up, reached No. 2. “She’s Got You” returned her to the top of the charts in 1962. Those masterpieces, along with the first song released after her death, “Sweet Dreams,” are, in the opinion of many, five of the greatest songs ever to grace the world of country music.

“She was a terrific singer and I’m pretty proud of the things we did,” Owen Bradley, Patsy’s producer, told Country Weekly. “ ‘Crazy’ was the most successful one in walking that fine line between country and pop—which is what our [Decca] company people in New York wanted. People like her better even now.” Decca’s desires, Owen’s eclectic musical tastes and Patsy’s down-home country drive and strong will produced some tensions along the way, especially when it came to song selection. “A lot of people thought we argued all the time, but we always talked it over, compromised and worked it out,” the affable Bradley said. The creative tension in the studio—often a healthy mixed blessing—led to a career that soared far beyond country and into the pop music realm.

Patsy never was one to back down when certain she was right. She would have taken delight in being called a “tough broad.” She duked it out more than once in her life that included molestation in her youth. She was a tough-talking survivor—a strong woman in country music when strong women weren’t wanted or tolerated.

Her stormy relationship with Charlie Dick was a product of the changing times. When asked by Country Weekly to recall his relationship with Patsy, Charlie laughed and said: “She was meaner than hell—about as mean as I was.” Though they fought, Dick remembers the good times outnumbering the bad. When asked about her music, Charlie confided he still favors “Crazy.”

“I occasionally get out some of the older things and put them on the stereo—and the quality is better than ever,” Charlie said. Famed Nashville songwriter “Harlan Howard once said that Patsy read a song better than anybody he had ever seen. When she was singing the song, she was playing a part and living that part like an actress.”

That emotion surfaced in the studio. “When she got into the tearjerkers,” Dick recalled, “she was crying on every song.” Dick also revealed a portion of his life with Patsy that has been previously undocumented: “When we were in Las Vegas for 35 days, there would be people who came to her shows like Della Reese, Roberta Sherwood, Gene Austin and Willie Nelson. And then, when Patsy wasn’t performing, we loved going to the shows of Della, Roberta and Harry James.”

Patsy always kept in good company: Della Reese, Harry James, Willie Nelson, Roberta Sherwood then; Barbra Streisand, Peggy Lee, Henry Mancini and Curtis Mayfield now.

As her Country Music Hall of Fame plaque declares: “Patsy will live in country music annals as one of its outstanding vocalists.... Her heritage of recordings is testimony to her artistic capacity.”

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