Like the late icons Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, Patsy Cline continues to fascinate us. Even now, more than 50 years after her death, Patsy’s music and door-opening influence live as vividly today as they did when Patsy was scoring huge radio hits like “Crazy” and “I Fall to Pieces” in the early 1960s. Longtime country fans still embrace her music, while contemporary singers Kacey Musgraves, Margo Price and others sing Patsy’s praises for her feisty character and bold willingness to stand up for her music.
Patsy’s legacy is now being celebrated with the opening of the new Patsy Cline Museum in downtown Nashville. Fans who visit the museum will hear plenty of Patsy’s music through interactive audio stations and archival videos of her classic performances on the Top of the Morning Show and other programs.
But the museum offers much more than a collection of her recordings. It paints a complete portrait of a star who also managed to serve as wife, mother, expert clothing designer and prolific letter-writer. Before the term “multi-tasking” ever came into being, Patsy was truly the living epitome of a woman who somehow juggled career and family as seamlessly as she possibly could.
One prominent display at the museum is a home movie of Patsy’s family life with second husband Charlie Dick and their two children, Julie and Randy. Viewers see Patsy sewing, putting on makeup and tending to the children. In another portion of the museum are picture-perfect replicas of the family living room, dining area and rec room, showcasing actual items from their home outside Nashville, which Charlie kept. Family members and friends unearthed other artifacts for the museum. There’s also a glimpse into Patsy’s youth with a depiction of Gaunt’s Drug Store, the Winchester, Va., pharmacy where Patsy worked as a teenager making milkshakes and malts. The owner of the store gave young Patsy a flexible schedule to allow her to pursue her singing career.
Patsy loved to stay in touch by mail—the old-fashioned kind—and several of Patsy’s actual hand-written letters are in full view. She wrote often to her mother-in-law, her close friend Anne Armstrong and several fans. Museum visitors can read the letters in their entirety.
“Every letter was detailed,” noted the museum’s co-founder Bill Miller during the ribbon-cutting ceremony to launch the new attraction on April 6. “She corresponded with about 20 ladies on a weekly basis. She was raising children. She was doing concerts. Yet she maintained these incredible correspondences.” Miller also noted that the letters were extremely helpful in telling Patsy’s story, as no archival interviews, either in print or on video, are in existence.
Miller feels that even contemporary women will truly relate to Patsy’s lifestyle, which would have proven harried at times. “You wonder how she balanced her life,” Miller tells NASH Country Daily. “She was raising children, making her own clothing and recording records. She was just a special soul.”
The emphasis of the Patsy Cline Museum squarely lies on the music and that expressive, aching voice that touched millions of listeners. To make that career-defining music, Patsy often had to clash with a male-dominated industry. As one prime example, Patsy initially expressed to producer Owen Bradley her dislike for having vocal group The Jordanaires on her records, insisting that they would drown her out. Few artists would have mustered up enough backbone to take on the legendary producer, but Patsy was not one to back down.
“She was a lady who was firmly in control and took charge,” Miller says. “Patsy didn’t take any crap. She was a trailblazer in that way. She had to stand up early on for her music and she was really in no position to do that, because she had not yet made it to the top. She was so in control and I think that’s why so many people were drawn to her.”
The Patsy Cline Museum (119 Third Ave. S.) is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is $18.95 for adults and $14.95 for children ages 6 to 15. Children 5 or younger are free.
photos courtesy of Patsy Cline Museum