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The word tragic could not even begin to describe the fatal event of March 5, 1963. On that day, country music legend Patsy Cline -- along with fellow stars Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Patsy's manager Randy Hughes -- died in a plane crash near Camden, Tenn.
Patsy was only 30 at the time of the accident and well on her way to superstardom. She had established herself as the top female star in country music, reaching No. 1 in 1961 with her most famous song, "I Fall To Pieces," and the following year with "She's Got You."
Perhaps more important, in ways that wouldn't be fully realized until later, Patsy helped blaze a trail for other female singers to become an integral part of the male-dominated music industry.
"She opened the doors for all of us," notes Loretta Lynn. Loretta counts herself amont the many stars -- including Dottie West, Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood -- who were influenced by Patsy's emotional "crying" style of singing.
Patsy broke down the doors by busting stereotypes. She favored gowns and cocktail dresses instead of the standard cowgirl wardrobe. And she was a feisty type who wasn[t afraid to lock horns with record executives -- unheard of for women of that era.
"Patsy seemed to be the first woman in country music who didn't care what anybody said," declares Trisha Yearwood. "She definitely broke some rules."
Patsy's rough exterior evolved from a tough childhood. Born Virginia Patterson Hensley, Sept. 8, 1932, in Winchester, Va., Patsy wanted to be an entertainer from an early age. Her voice, she believed, would be her ticket up the ladder and out of Winchester.
But family problems put any dreams of stardom on hold. While Patsy was still in high school, her father deserted the family. To help support her mother, 15-year-old Patsy quit high school and took any job she could find -- working at a drug store, the Greyhound bus station, even a chicken factory.
In 1957, she got the break of a lifetime -- an appearance on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, a weekly talent competition that was one of TV' most-watched shows.
Patsy performed "Walkin' After Midnight," and the audience reaction was overwhelming. The "applause meter" that appeared on the nation's TV screens registered at the highest end of the scale.
That eventually led to another turning point in her career -- a No. 1 hit with "I Fall To Pieces" in 1961. That song -- crafted with a lush orchestra and a stirring string section -- became the first of many pop-country crossovers that Patsy would record, including "Crazy" and "She's Got You."
Ironically, it was never Patsy's desire to be the crossover queen. "She absolutely hated being made into a pop star," says Ellis Nassour, author of the recently revised biography Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline.