Patsy Cline was born Virginia Patterson Hensley on September 8, 1932, in Winchester Memorial Hospital. Her parents were 43-year-old Samuel Lawrence Hensley, a blacksmith, and his second wife, 16-year-old Hilda Virginia Patterson Hensley.
Virginia’s family moved many times before her 15th birthday, living with her grandparents, as well as elsewhere in Virginia. In November 1948, Samuel and Hilda Hensley separated. Hilda and her three children then moved to Winchester.
Virginia (known to family and friends as Ginny) quit school shortly after her 16th birthday to help support her family by working in a poultry plant. Later she took jobs at a bus depot and as a drugstore soda clerk. She also began singing professionally at night and on weekends to supplement the money her mother made as a seamstress.
During the next few years, Ginny won amateur contests, sang on local radio stations, and performed with a number of bands. She auditioned in Nashville for the Grand Ole Opry but was deemed too young. In late1952, Ginny auditioned for the country bandleader Bill Peer, who had a radio show in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Peer hired her to sing with his Melody Boys and Girls on the Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Washington music circuit, and gave her the stage name of Patsy, after his daughter.
When, on March 7, 1953, she married Gerald E. Cline, Virginia Patterson Hensley became Patsy Cline.
In September 1954, Patsy signed a contract with the 4 Star Record Company, and the following June recorded her first songs in Nashville: “Hidin’ Out,” “Honky-Tonk Merry-Go-Round,” “Turn the Cards Slowly,” and “A Church, a Courtroom, and Then Goodbye.”
Her first 45 single, released in July 1955 on the Coral Records label, was produced by the legendary Owen Bradley, who was later credited with perfecting Patsy’s sound. But the first release was unsuccessful. Patsy had resisted Bradley’s attempts to tone down her hillbilly sound with pop arrangements for which he thought her voice was better suited.
In 1955, Cline began appearing on Town and Country Time, a half-hour daily music-variety television program in Washington, DC, as the female vocalist with Jimmy Dean and the Texas Wildcats. This exposure won her a booking on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, and on January 21, 1957, she won the competition by singing “Walkin’ After Midnight.”
The publicity from this appearance increased sales of the song, and by March, “Walkin’ After Midnight” held the 2nd spot on Billboard’s country music chart and 12th place on the popular music chart.
Gerald Cline, jealous of his wife’s success and frustrated that she did not stay at home like a traditional housewife, separated from Patsy Cline, and the couple divorced in Maryland in January 1957. The previous April, Patsy had met Charles Allen Dick, a newspaper linotype operator, at a dance in Berryville. They married on September 15, 1957, and had one daughter (born August 1958) and one son (born January 1961).
Dick was serving in the United States Army at Fort Bragg. Without a follow-up hit to “Walkin’ After Midnight” and with an infant to care for, Patsy was back to scraping by as a regional performer. Charles Dick was mustered out of the army in February 1959. In early fall, the couple moved to Nashville.
Patsy, who had appeared in the mid-1950s as a guest on the Grand Ole Opry, joined as a regular cast member in January 1960. In January 1961, Decca records released “I Fall to Pieces,” which topped the country chart and reached the 12th spot on the pop chart.
In June 1961, Patsy was critically injured in an automobile accident but returned to the studio by August, when she recorded “Crazy,” a song written by Willie Nelson, that rose to 2nd place on the country chart and 9th place on the pop chart. In December 1961, she recorded “She’s Got You,” which became her second number-one country hit.
Patsy won several outstanding female country singer awards during the next two years. Beginning in January 1962, she frequently appeared as the second-billed performer in a concert tour organized by Johnny Cash that also featured June Carter and George Jones. Her touring schedule included television performances on American Bandstand and the Tex Ritter Show, as well as concerts at Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and the Mint Casino in Las Vegas. By early 1963, she had recorded more than one hundred songs.
On March 5, 1963, while flying home to Nashville after a benefit concert in Kansas City, Missouri, in a plane piloted by her manager, Patsy Cline and performers Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins died in a crash near Camden, Tennessee. After a prayer service in Nashville, her remains were returned to Winchester, where her funeral attracted the news media and thousands of fans. She was buried in Shenandoah Memorial Park just outside the city.
In the decades following her death, Patsy became a musical icon. In 1973, she was the first solo woman performer to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, and in 1981, she was inducted into the Virginia Folk Music Association’s Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame. Her recordings have sold millions of copies, and she has been the subject of numerous biographies, several musicals, a tribute album, and the 1985 feature film Sweet Dreams. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences recognized Patsy with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995 and Grammy Hall of Fame awards in 1992 and 2001 for “Crazy” and “I Fall to Pieces.”
At the turn of the 21st century, Patsy’s recording of “Crazy” remained the song most often played on jukeboxes. She has fan clubs around the world, a United States commemorative postage stamp, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In Winchester there is a bell tower erected in her memory at the Shenandoah Memorial Park, and a Virginia state highway marker—initiated by Celebrating Patsy Cline, Inc.—in front of her 608 South Kent Street home.