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A powerful voice silenced too soon

“Don’t worry about me, Hoss. When it’s my time to go, it’s my time.”

Patsy Cline escaped death twice — at age 13 when she was hospitalized with a critical illness, and in a car crash when she was 28.

On March 5, 1963, Fate finally caught up with her. She was only 30 years old.

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Plane crash headline

LIFE-THREATENING ILLNESS

Her first brush with death was beating a throat infection and rheumatic fever, a life-threatening condition in those days.

There was one bright side to the illness. Patsy Cline believed the fever was responsible for her rich, deep singing voice. “The fever affected my throat,” she said, “and when I recovered I had this booming voice like Kate Smith.”

HEAD-ON COLLISION

In her second close call with death, Patsy Cline and her brother, Sam Hensley, were in a head-on collision in Madison, Tennessee. Patsy was thrown through the windshield and suffered critical multiple injuries. The accident left her head severely scarred.

When Fate came calling the third time, Patsy Cline had appeared the previous night at a benefit concert in Kansas City for the family of disc jockey “Cactus” Jack Call, who died in a car accident a month earlier.

TURNS DOWN CAR RIDE

After her performance, Patsy spent the night at the Town House Motor Hotel. She couldn’t get a plane out the next day because the local airport was fogged in.

Fellow performer Dottie West invited Patsy to ride in the car with her and her husband for the 16-hour drive back to Nashville, but Patsy declined and said, “Don’t worry about me, Hoss. When it’s my time to go, it’s my time.”

Instead, she climbed aboard a Piper PA-24 Comanche plane with country-western performers, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Randy Hughes, who would fly the plane.

STORMY WEATHER

At 5 p.m. the plane made a pit stop in Dyersburg, Tennessee. The airfield manager suggested they spend the night because of stormy weather, offering them free rooms and meals. But Hughes turned down the offer, saying, “I’ve already come this far. We’ll be there before you know it.” The small craft took off at 6:07 p.m. Ten minutes later the plane flew into a thunderstorm. Hughes had no training in instrument flying.

When the plane didn’t land on schedule, the flight was reported missing. Reports were broadcast on radio and TV. Frantic phone calls from relatives, friends and fans tied up the local telephone exchanges. The lights at the destination airfield were kept on throughout the night.

ROGER MILLER FINDS BODIES

Early next morning, country singer Roger Miller and a friend went searching in a wooded area outside Camden, Tenn.

“I ran through the woods as fast as I could screaming their names,” said Miller, “through the brush and the trees, and I came up over this little rise, and, oh, my God, there they were. It was ghastly. The plane had crashed nose down.”

Recovery teams removed the bodies. Patsy’s wristwatch had stopped at 6:20 p.m.

And three other victims

Thousands of people attended Patsy Cline’s memorial service in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia. She was buried at Shenandoah Memorial Park.

PIONEER FOR WOMEN

The subject of several movies, documentaries and books, Patsy Cline is regarded to this day as a pioneer for women in country music.

She has been called one of the greatest vocalists ever, with a voice that’s at once “haunting, powerful and emotional.”

Rolling Stone magazine listed her box set among their “50 Greatest Albums of All-Time.” Patsy Cline “belts out some of the torchiest, weepiest country songs ever, hitting high notes that make you sob into your margarita,” wrote Rob Sheffield.

QUEEN OF THE JUKEBOX

The “First Lady of Country Music” recorded more than 100 songs in her short career, scoring her biggest hits with “I Fall To Pieces,” “Walkin’ After MIdnight,” “She’s Got You” and “Crazy,” which was written by up-and-coming country star Willie Nelson. The song was the No. 1 jukebox song in America.

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5 thoughts on “A powerful voice silenced too soon

  1. A haunting story. Some people (a select few) are meant to be a gift to this world, the rest are mass production. I can’t decide which category is better to belong to – it’s not up to you to decide, so there is no point of discriminating. I’ll just learn to make peace with what’s dealt and try to appreciate the gifts of others … Thanks, Billy, your blog is the best.

    1. Thanks, Dot. I do love Patsy Cline, what a voice, and such a tragic early death. I like what you say about gifted people and the “rest are mass production” — that last phrase, what an excellent way to put it. By the way, you have a gift, the gift of communication, reaching out to people and making a connection — that’s a great gift, not unlike a singer, who communicates with a musical voice.

      1. I am very much an introverted person actually. Reaching out is usually out of character for me. But connection is an amazing thing – some people you feel an instant connection reading their words, while the words of the rest are just empty words. I am happy you enjoy my ‘gift’, Billy.

  2. Whoa! This is incredible. I knew she died young, but didn’t know the details surrounding that plane crash.

    There can only be one Patsy Cline. Such a powerful, haunting voice – in fact, I’m going to listen to her music today in tribute.

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