On This Day: Country Icon Patsy Cline Died in a Plane Crash in 1963

by Lauren Boisvert

On this day, March 5, 1963, Patsy Cline tragically died in a plane crash while traveling back to Nashville. She was only 30. That was 59 years ago, but no one has forgotten her, not even close. She is still one of the biggest icons of country music, and contemporaries with Loretta Lynn, Dottie West, and Jan Howard. Along with accolades during her life, she’s also had many posthumous achievements. In 1973, she was the first female performer to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2005, her greatest hits album sold over 10 million copies, and her Dream Home in Nashville was put on the Tennessee Historical Markers List. It sold last December for $540,000.

Patsy Cline: Her Life and Talent

When I think of Patsy Cline, I think of “Walkin’ After Midnight.” But, she had so many other hits as well. “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and “Leavin’ On Your Mind,” just to name a few. “I Fall to Pieces” was her first Billboard country hit, while “Walkin’ After Midnight” was her first hit on both the country and pop charts. She performed it on “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” and the single became a huge hit after that.

Patsy Cline was actually born Virginia Patterson Hensley in Winchester, Virginia. She didn’t immediately have an interest in singing; it was her recovery from a throat infection at 13 that influenced her. She spoke about it in 1957, saying, “I developed a terrible throat infection and my heart even stopped beating. The doctor put me in an oxygen tent. You might say it was my return to the living after several days that launched me as a singer. The fever affected my throat and when I recovered I had this booming voice like Kate Smith’s.”

Early Performances and Career Peak

Cline first performed over the local radio in Winchester by just showing up in the waiting room and asking for an audition. After that, she started performing in talent contests. When she was 15, she wrote a letter to the Grand Ole Opry asking to audition there. The Opry replied, asking for photos and recordings. She and her family traveled to Nashville, and Cline had a successful audition with the Opry, but she never heard back.

Until 1960, after numerous performances for the Opry. She asked for membership, and they gave it to her. Her career peaked in 1961 after a near-fatal car accident, which put her in the hospital for a month. After that, she whole-heartedly returned to performing. During her return performance at the Grand Ole Opry, Cline thanked her supporters. “You’re wonderful,” she said to the audience. “I’ll tell you one thing: the greatest gift, I think, that you folks coulda given me was the encouragement that you gave me. Right at the very time I needed you the most, you came through with the flying-est colors. And I just want to say you’ll just never know how happy you made this ol’ country gal.”