Book Review: Patsy Cline, Singing Girl from the Shenandoah Valley

Book Review: Patsy Cline, Singing Girl from the Shenandoah Valley

Thumbnail image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

By Kathy A. Megyeri 

Recently, Virginia’s 10th District Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton sponsored legislation and President Joe Biden signed it into law that the post office along Old Town Winchester, Virginia’s walking mall, be named after Patsy Cline as this year would have been her 90th birthday. 

About Patsy Cline

Virginia Patterson Hensley (1932-1963), her real name, died in a plane crash at age 30 in Camden, Tennessee, but in 1960, she was the first female solo artist to be inducted into the County Music Hall of Fame. I have visited her home in Winchester where she lived from 1947 to 1953 and which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Then, I drove just a few miles south to the Shenandoah Memorial Park where a bell towner marks her burial site. But now I’m going to visit the renamed post office because, thanks to Cline, her distinctive voice and those memorable hits like “Crazy” and “I Fall to Pieces,” Winchester will always be one of Virginia’s most beloved towns. 

Image from Amazon

In honor of this event, I bought copies of my favorite Cline book, “Patsy Cline: Singing Girl from the Shenandoah Valley” to give to my fellow fans of this remarkable singer.  I thought I knew her life story pretty well but I had a lot to learn from this book.  For example: 

  • Her mother was a 16-year-old seamstress and her father was a 42-year-old blacksmith.
  • She is considered one of the most influential vocalists of the 20th century and was one of the first country music artists to cross over into pop music. 
  • During her eight year recording career, she had two number one hits on the Billboard Hot Country and Western charts.  
  • Her first professional performances began at the local WINC radio station when she was 15. While working as a waitress, she entered a variety of talent shows in Winchester. 
  • In 1957, she made her first national appearance on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts show, and her song “Walkin’ After Midnight” became her first major hit on both the country and pop charts. 
Image from Wikipedia
  • Her greatest hits album sold over 10 million copies in 2005 and is still one of the all-time best selling country records by a female artist.  It spent over seven years on the charts. 
  • Her manager gave her the name “Patsy” from her middle name Patterson. 
  • She couldn’t read sheet music but was self-taught and had perfect pitch, even as a child.  Her father was an amateur singer but deserted the family. 
  • She was the first woman to wear pants on the Grand Ole Opry and the first female country singer to headline in Vegas. When she performed, she didn’t wear the ruffles, crinolines and gingham that the other female country singers wore because she claimed they made her look like a “damned butterfly.” 
  • She was the first woman in country music to perform at Carnegie Hall and when in Vegas, she sang for four night shows of 45 minutes each starting at 2 am.  One of her dresses was hand sewn and consisted of 3,000 sequins. She made $1,000 a night.  
  • If you were a songwriter in the 60s, a sure way to get a hit was to have Patsy record your song because she brought magic to the lyrics.  Willie Nelson called Patsy’s recording of the song he wrote, “Crazy,” his “most favorite song that anyone ever did.” 
  • She called herself “The Cline” and was outspoken and brazen, but incredibly kind and loyal.  She was especially close to Loretta Lynn, June Carter Cash, Dottie West and Brenda Lee. 
  • Two movies portrayed her: Jessica Lange in 1985 on TV starred in “Sweet Dreams: The Life and Times of Patsy Cline,” and Beverly D’Angelo portrayed her in “Coal Miner’s Daughter” for which she won an award. 
  • Patsy demanded her money before performing.  Her mantra was, “No dough, no show.”  She appeared at the Hollywood Bowl, on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and toured with the Johnny Cash show. 
  • Whenever she introduced herself on stage, she said, “My name is Patsy Cline, and I come from Winchester, Virginia.” On her lengthy tours, she acted and talked like a country musician and described her career this way, “It’s singing, signing autographs and posing for pictures and doing the very best job you can.  It’s meaning something special to a whole bunch of strangers who you’ll probably never see again but who suddenly become like family.” 
  • At the crash site where she died, the Patsy Cline fan club put up a mailbox for fans to leave her notes. They still do. 
  • At the crash site, the items recovered were her wristwatch, confederate flag cigarette lighter, studded belt and three pairs of gold lame slippers. 
  • Patsy is buried next to her husband Charlie Dick whom she referred to as “the love of her life,” although her name Cline is from her first husband Gerald Cline to whom she was married for four years.  
  • After her death, two songs made the top 10:  “Leavin’ on Your Mind” and “Sweet Dreams of You.”  Her net worth was $10 million.  She sold more records after her death than during her lifetime.  In 1997, “Crazy” was named the number one jukebox hit of all time. 
  • Modern recording technology made possible the blending of Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline’s duet version of the spiritual “Just A Closer Walk with Thee.” 
  • A Tennessee National Guard plane brought her body back to Winchester.  The traffic jam to the cemetery extended five miles and 25,000 people attended. 
  • The inscription on her gravestone states: “Virginia H. (Patsy) Cline, ‘Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies: Love.'” 

And for die-hard fans who want even more facts about Cline, this book offers extensive footnotes, a map of Patsy Cline sites in and around the Winchester area, a glossary of books about her, a listing of movies, video cassettes, magazine articles, and best of all, extensive photos of her life, singing career, family and residences. 

Tribute shows across America still honor her, her hits and her legacy, but guitarist “Bud” Mavin Armel who accompanied her for years said, “Patsy could take any song from any genre and sing it with emotion to make it her own.”  All of us fans will wish her a happy 90th birthday on September 8. We still miss her.