Recognitions in her hometown are a hard-fought triumph
Patsy Cline’s hometown of Winchester, Virginia, wasn’t exactly quick to embrace the impact the country music icon had, despite that she created enormous success during a short life.
Her timeless talent still captivates new generations almost 60 years after her death. But in her long history with the city she claimed as her home and final resting place, some residents once outright refused to honor her legacy.
Fortunately, Patsy’s family and fans are as tenacious as she was. And they made a space for her by gathering yearly to ensure her voice stayed alive long after she died.
Here’s how things have changed in her hometown thanks to their efforts.
Patsy Cline’s short life started in Winchester, Virginia
Born Virginia “Ginny” Hensley in Winchester, Virginia, on Sept. 8, 1932, Patsy dropped out of high school after her father left the family. She wanted to help her mother make ends meet, so she lied about her age to work, according to PBS.
A self-taught piano player, she had a natural gift for singing and making music. So, she worked various low-wage jobs and started performing in local singing competitions. Showcasing a distinct, booming voice that she credited to a near-fatal throat infection in her early teens, she had an undeniable talent that would make her a star.
After becoming Patsy Cline in her first marriage to Gerald Cline in 1953, she began creating a name for herself outside the Winchester area. She and Gerald divorced, but she kept the stage name.
In 1957, she won Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts show competition with a “Walkin’ After Midnight” performance. That set her career on a fast trajectory upward. Notably, her mother “fibbed” and pretended to be her manager to get her on the show, per PBS.
That year, she married Charlie Dick, whom she’d met at a local dance in Winchester. And they had two children before 1961.
Patsy Cline’s tragic death
After buying her dream house with Dick and the kids near Nashville, 30-year-old Patsy was killed in a 1963 plane crash in Tennessee.
The resilient “Crazy” singer died along with country stars Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins. Her manager, Randy Hughes, piloted the plane and was also killed.
Patsy’s remains were returned to Winchester for burial at Shenandoah Memorial Park. Collaborating with Dottie West, Loretta Lynn had a bell tower monument erected in the cemetery in honor of her lost friend.
There used to be a ‘nasty anti-Cline complex’ in Patsy Cline’s hometown
According to music journalist Eddie Dean, Patsy had sadly almost faded from Winchester by 1995. He interviewed locals for the Washington City Paper to get a picture of the singer’s legacy and concluded that some residents still had a “nasty anti-Cline complex” in the ‘90s.
“Cline’s death and surging posthumous fame have done little to dispel the sordid images that linger in Winchester of the rebel without a beehive hairdo,” Dean wrote. “Foul-mouthed lowlife. White trash. Town slut.”
Bless their hearts.
Patsy’s brother-in-law recalled to Dean how she essentially snuck into the city’s Apple Blossom Parade one year. He said that regardless of the success of her hit “Walkin’ After Midnight,” local businesses wouldn’t sponsor her. And officials didn’t invite her to participate.
Some streets showered Patsy with applause, and others fell silent while she rolled by, smiling and waving to them all.
Despite the city’s avoidance of recognizing Patsy, her fans came looking for her, year after year. “The thousands of pilgrims who annually come to Winchester to find their idol’s roots routinely leave disappointed, if not downright angry,” Dean noted, adding, “There’s really nothing much to see.”
“It’s not really an issue people care about,” Winchester Star’s former managing editor Ron Morris said then. “She lived here, she’s buried here, she made some great music — that’s about it.”
How Patsy Cline’s hometown marked 90 years since her birth
Dean disclosed that Patsy’s fan club had already started an annual tradition of meeting in Winchester on Labor Day weekend to celebrate the singer’s birthday in 1995.
Charlie Dick, who died in 2015, told Dean that his late wife was more popular than ever. “A lot of people come to Winchester to find out about Patsy,” he said. “They hear her music, and they want to know where it all came from.”
Since 2010, there’s been an annual Labor Day weekend block party celebrating Patsy’s September birthday. Furthermore, the house she once lived in, which would hardly stand out if there wasn’t a sign, was named a historic landmark and opened for tours in 2011.
In 2022, to mark Patsy’s 90th birthday, singer Mandy Barnett performed a concert at Winchester’s Patsy Cline Theater. And the city’s downtown post office was also officially renamed after the singer.
It took long enough for it to happen, but Patsy is finally getting the hometown recognition she’s always deserved.
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