Tribute: Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline was one of the great female voices in music. She was able to infuse her songs of heartbreak and rejection with a sorrow and longing still palpable. Cline is routinely relegated (and confined) to "country singer" status, but the sentiments of regret and loss she so emotionally brought to life through her singing cross genres and generations. Following is the story of how the musical strains of sorrow turned into a very real grief.
According to sources, Dottie West, Loretta Lynn and June Carter Cash, country musicians and friends of Patsy Cline, remembered that in the months preceeding her death, Cline told them that she felt a sense of impending doom and didn't expect to live much longer. Cline began giving away personal items to friends, and wrote out her will - on Delta Air Lines stationery. She also was asking close friends to care for her children should anything happen to her. Supposedly she told Jordanaire back-up singer, Ray Walker, a week before her death, "Honey, I've had two bad ones. The third one will either be a charm or it'll kill me." (Cline was referring to accidents - she had been involved in two car accidents; the second, in 1961, a head-on collision that sent Cline through the car's windshield and killed two people in the other vehicle.)
On 3 March 1963, Patsy Cline had just finished performing at a benefit for the widow of "Cactus" Jack Call, a local disc jockey who died in a car crash. Dottie West pleaded with Cline to return home with her by car. But Cline refused the offer, stating, "Don't worry about me, Hoss. When it's my time to go, it's my time." She opted to fly. So Virginia Patterson Hensley (Patsy Cline), Lloyd Estel Copas (Cowboy Copas) and Harold Franklin Hawkins (Hawkshaw Hawkins), along with Randy Hughes (Copas's son-in-law and Cline's manager) boarded a single-propeller Piper Comanche PA-24-250, #N-7000P. Storms had delayed their return flight home, until 1:30pm on 5 March. They stopped for fuel and lunch in Dyersburg, Tennessee, and Randy Hughes (who was also the pilot) phoned his wife to check weather conditions back home. Unfortunately, Hughes's wife did not realize she was in the calm eye of a storm, and reported that the weather was fine. The plane took off at 6:07pm.
Clipping from a newspaper of the era. Much appreciation to www.patsified.com.
Randy Hughes lost visibility around Camden, Tennessee. It is speculated that he was trying to land on a nearby highway, when he hit some trees. Not being instrument trained also hampered Hughes's navigating ability. The plane crashed in Fatty Bottom (70 miles west of Nashville). View the original National Transportation and Safety Board crash report. (Thanks again to www.patsified.com.) I also typed the report out since the original is difficult to read; you can find that here. The wreckage was discovered around dawn by William Jefferey Hollingsworth and son, Jeners. (The following quote, by Jeners Hollingsworth about discovering the crash site, is a bit graphic.)
"We were out on Old Stage Road trying to locate the plane just as it turned daylight. We looked up through the mist and fog, and spotted a section of a yellow airplane wing in the top of a tree. We went down the steep hill and saw pieces of the plane scattered around a 300 foot area. There were parts of bodies on tree limbs and on the ground. Daddy started backing up from the area and told me to go call the Sheriff's office."
Patsy Cline was 30 years old at the time of the crash. Cowboy Copas was 49; Hawkshaw Hawkins 41 years old.
Wreckage of the plane carrying Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Randy Hughes.
In a bizarre twist of circumstances, another country musician, Jack Anglin (of the Anglin Brothers and of Johnnie and Jack), was involved in a fatal car accident on his way to Cline's funeral. (He is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, along with Copas, Hawkins, and Hughes.) Singer Jim Reeves was a pall bearer at Anglin's funeral. Eighteen months later (1964), he would perish in a plane crash when the aircraft he was piloting went down during a thunderstorm. (His impressive monument is pictured below. The inscription reads, "If I, a lowly singer, dry one tear, or soothe one humble human heart in pain, then my homely verse to God is dear, and not one stanza has been sung in vain.")
Jim Reeves's memorial.
Country superstar Reba McEntire has often claimed Patsy Cline as one of her inspirations, and she covered Cline's songs on several of her early albums. For years, McEntire would close her live shows with "Sweet Dreams," but discontinued after the 15 March 1991 performance. That night after the show, the plane carrying her band crashed into a mountain, killing all ten people on board.
Crash site photos
You may click on the next three crash site images to enlarge the views. (The focus is much improved on the larger images.) All three photos, along with additional articles and information, are available on www.patsified.com.
Patsy's golden boots. Photo from the 7 March 1963 Nashville Tennessean.
Cowboy boot and belt belonging to Hawkshaw Hawkins. Photo from the 6 March 1963 Nashville Banner.
Being carried away from the crash site. From the collection of Greg Mundy.
The memorial at the crash site.
Thanks to findadeath.com.