Patsy Cline was on the verge of breaking out to the mainstream. She made many chart topping Country hits and performed at the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, and the Mint Casino in Las Vegas. Aware of her growing crossover appeal, she also knew what direction she wanted her career to go: the Country star was revamping her fashion style, trading in her western stage costumes for elegant dresses and gold lame pants.
Then, on March 5, 1963 at about 6:00 PM, Patsy Cline was a passenger on a small aircraft that took off in rainy weather from the Dykersburg Tennessee airport. The plane hit a patch of driving rain and crashed about 20 minutes later. There were no survivors. She was 30 years old.
For a few months Patsy Cline record sales surged due to the usual interest that follows the death of a young star, as well as the posthumous releases of her last recordings for the Decca Recording label—including “Sweet Dreams” and “Faded Love”—that were among her best records ever.
Her years with the Decca label began in 1960 and generally coincided with those of the John F. Kennedy administration. But in the era after the president’s assassination, cultural eruptions and shifting musical styles occurred rapidly. Public memory of Patsy Cline seemed to fade overnight. In 2002, her biographer Ellis Nassour said in an interview that he found virtually nothing written about her “until she was named to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973, and very little then.”
But Patsy Cline was not destined to end up in a footnote as an obscure Country singer of the early 1960s. Her appeal proved to be cross-generational, growing stronger over the years. In 2002, The Country Music Association named her number one on its list of 40 Greatest Women of Country Music.
Last spring, I bought the new Patsy Cline CD, Sweet Dreams: Her Complete Decca Masters 1960-1963. I’ve been a huge fan of Patsy Cline since the 1980s and familiar with much of the music found in Sweet Dreams. But thanks to this compilation—which also has one of the nicest CD packages and booklets I’ve seen—I’ve been able to spend a lot of time appreciating anew the immensity of her talent and art.
Having listened to the Sweet Dreams CD several times in recent months, I am struck how she sounds more accessible than ever today. Her candid style draws you in. She has one of those relaxed voices that makes you feel she is a close friend.
In this world of over-the-top pop singers, today Patsy Cline seems refreshingly poised. She delivered on the song’s emotions with each note and every word. It’s as if she instinctively found with her vocal instrument more in these songs than the songwriters knew was even there.
Her music backup was led by the always-smooth session work of Owen Bradley. His understated string arrangements stand up well, especially compared to many of the lavish arrangements of the era.
Here she is in a poignant TV performance only 10 days before her fateful plane crash, performing one of her biggest hits, which also happens to be my favorite Patsy Cline song.