Encore

TORCH, TWANG, AND TRAGEDY

QUEEN OF COUNTRY PATSY CLINE DIED IN A PLANE WRECK 31 YEARS AGO

No one sang about tortured heartbreak like Patsy Cline. The raw emotion of her extraordinary voice said that this was a woman who knew what she was singing about, who was familiar with love and loss. Which somehow made the news of March 5, 1963, all the harder to take. That day, the first lady of country died in a plane crash, along with fellow Grand Ole Opry stars Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins, and manager/pilot Randy Hughes. Cline, 30, was flying back from Kansas City, Kan., when her single-engine Piper Comanche smashed into the hills near Nashville, killing all four aboard. ''It's the worst tragedy to strike the music world,'' read a Tennessee newspaper report. Born Virginia Patterson Hensley, Cline had started her recording career a mere eight years earlier, and had become not only a Nashville staple but the first woman country singer to break the pop barrier. Her unique torch-and- twang voice first hit the Billboard charts with ''Walkin' After Midnight'' in 1957, and struck again in 1961 with ''Crazy'' and ''I Fall to Pieces.'' (Written by Willie Nelson, ''Crazy'' is the most played jukebox song, beating out Bob Seger's ''Old Time Rock & Roll'' and Elvis Presley's ''Hound Dog'' and ''Don't Be Cruel.'') Perhaps more than anyone, Cline helped define the country music of the '50s and '60s, and she left a legacy that has never faded. Her short life (depicted in the 1985 Jessica Lange film, Sweet Dreams) saw emotional turbulence, divorce (from Gerald Cline), and a near-fatal car crash, which set the pattern for many country stars to come. But it's mainly through her devotees-among them, Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire, and k.d. lang, who has insisted she's Patsy's reincarnation-that Cline's memory lives on. ''She would have been amazed to see...(that) so many people today give her credit for having a great influence on them,'' said her second husband, Charlie Dick, who married Patsy in 1957. More than 30 years after her death, why does Patsy Cline still have a hold on listeners? Says Mel Dick, her brother-in-law and general manager of her national fan club, ''She had the kind of voice that makes you say, 'If this is country music, I think I like country music.'''

TIME CAPSULE March 5, 1963 The Four Seasons walked tall with the No. 1 ''Walk Like a Man,'' while John Steinbeck cruised to the top with Travels With Charley. Lawrence of Arabia conquered screens, and The Beverly Hillbillies struck gold on the tube.

Originally posted Mar 04, 1994 Published in issue #212 Mar 04, 1994 Order article reprints