On March 5, 1963, country singers Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins died in a plane crash near Camden, Tennesee, about 90 miles west of Nashville. Around 6:20 p.m., their Piper Comanche PA-24 aircraft slammed into the ground, killing everyone on board instantly and leaving a six-foot-deep hole.
Randy Hughes, who was flying the aircraft, was not an instrument-rated pilot and could not steer his way through the adverse weather, dooming the plane.
The 50th anniversary of the horrific plane crash that took the trio and Hughes gives us a chance to look back on the legacy of Cline, who is still one of the most-beloved and influential female country singers ever. All three artists died as members of the Grand Ole Opry.
Hawkins was married to singer Jean Shepard at the time of the crash, and Cline left behind her second husband, Charlie Dick, and children Julie and Randy. All three of Cline's immediate family members are still active in her estate.
Cline's voice endures into the 21st century, with her hits and compositions still able to stop a clock. "Walkin' After Midnight," written by Alan Block and Donn Hecht and released in 1957, was her first taste of chart success.
Her 1961 take on Willie Nelson's "Crazy" is easily her best-known song. Nelson once said that the song was originally titled "Stupid," which doesn't have the same romance as "crazy."
The song followed the Hank Cochran/Harlan Howard-penned "I Fall to Pieces" onto the charts, solidifying Cline's star status. At this point she became a pop crossover artist.
The next year's "She's Got You," also written by Cochran, is easily her most heart-weary single. The line "I've got your memory / Or has it got me?" is still one of the most gut-wrenching in modern music. Cline's signature phrasing cuts like a knife.
In the years before Cline's death, she was one of country music's highest-paid acts, male or female, and was a pioneer for women in the genre, mentoring Loretta Lynn along the way.
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In 1973, Cline became the first female solo act elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Select items from her life and recording career went on display at the Hall of Fame's Nashville campus, including some items recovered from the crash site.
The Willie Nelson Museum, also in Nashville, has the watch she was wearing at the time of her death on display as well. Here is a photo of the program from her funeral on March 10, 1963.
In 1985, Cline's life was dramatized in the biopic Sweet Dreams starring Jessica Lange and Ed Harris as Charlie Dick. According to IMDb, Meryl Streep was actually turned down for Sweet Dreams, something that has happened only three times in Streep's long and award-laden career.
Next week in Houston at the Stages Repertory Theatre, you can catch Always...Patsy Cline, the 1988 musical written by Stages founding artistic director Ted Swindley, which features 27 of Cline's songs. The play runs from March 13 until March 31. You can snag tickets here.
Check out this Rdio link of Patsy Cline's Greatest Hits, a 1967 compilation that makes a solid case for Cline's place in music history. The overwhelming sense of "what might have been" will wash over you, as Cline was destined to be more than a country singer, with a voice on par with some of the greatest pop vocalists of her gender.
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