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Patsy Cline: Still Crazy

photo by Elwood Baker/CMHOF

Editor’s note:The writer of this story, Steven Todd Kerley, was killed in a car accident earlier this year at the age of 25. He had recently graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in journalism. His grandmother Carol Kerley sent us the story and asked that we consider it for publication to honor his memory. It appears in our Oct. 22 issue. According to his grandmother, “Todd was the ultimate Patsy Cline fan since he was a little boy. He called Charlie Dick several times over the years and Charlie was kind enough to take his calls. His final call to Charlie was the one he made in order to write his final article on Patsy.” Rest in peace.

On a modest headstone in Shenandoah Memorial Park located in the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains in Winchester, Va., are the words, “Death cannot kill what never dies.” For late country music legend Patsy Cline, those words certainly ring true. Having just passed the 80th anniversary of her birth on Sept. 8 and nearing the 50th anniversary of her death next March, Patsy Cline is more alive than ever.

In August, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opened a yearlong exhibit highlighting the legacy and influence of the country star. While many of Patsy’s contemporaries have seen their stars fade long ago, her star burns as brightly as ever.

Two 2010 releases, Icon and Icon 2, may not contain any new material, but the interest in Patsy’s music is still there. “I think it was the quality of the songs that keeps the interest alive,” says her widower, Charlie Dick. “She was a damn good judge of material.”

Charlie also credits her producer, Owen Bradley, with arranging slick, sophisticated productions that allowed country music to be accepted by a wider audience than more traditional country music of the time. The wider audience proved critical in the longevity of Patsy’s career. During the late 1950s and early 1960s she began headlining her own tours, something that had not been done by a female artist. In November 1961, Patsy was part of the first country music show at Carnegie Hall in New York City and later that month she became part of the first country music show at the Hollywood Bowl.

The last time Charlie saw Patsy was on March 2, 1963, at Cornelia Field Airpark outside of Nashville. She was traveling with her manager to Kansas City to sing at a benefit concert. She never returned. On March 5, 1963, the plane carrying Patsy and fellow Grand Ole Opry stars Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins crashed into a remote wooded area near Camden, Tenn. The superstar country music singer was dead at 30 years old. “They called and said that they never landed at the airport and I never heard anything. I guess it was about 6 in the morning. [WSM announcer] Grant Turner announced on the radio that the plane had crashed and there were no survivors,” says Charlie.

Since Cline’s untimely death, her popularity has continued to grow and her music has been passed from generation to generation by her fans. Charlie Dick admits that he doesn’t have an answer about the reason for her longevity. “In this business, you’re here today and gone tomorrow. There were artists with a lot of potential who were great singers, but you don’t hear anymore about them,” he says.

Given Cline’s enormous popularity today, chances are that she will not be forgotten anytime soon. To Patsy Cline fans, death could not kill what never dies.

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