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Remembrances of Patsy Cline in Nashville
By Tom Adkinson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – March 5 is the date many Patsy Cline fans have on their minds every spring, because that is the date of the 1963 plane crash near Camden, Tenn., that claimed Cline, fellow Grand Ole Opry member Hawkshaw Hawkins and her manager, Randy Hughes.

patsy cline
A trio of Patsy Cline images creates a special effect in one of the museum’s spaces. Image by Tom Adkinson.

However, April 7 is another, happier date they should keep in mind, too, because that’s the date in 2017 when the Patsy Cline Museum opened in Nashville to tell the story of the strong-willed, strong-voiced singer whose music continues to entertain people around the world.

patsy cline recordings
Headphones in front of a wall full of recordings are your vehicles to song after song. Image by Tom Adkinson.

The Patsy Cline Museum is just off Broadway in Nashville’s honky tonk district, just blocks from the Ryman Auditorium, where Cline wowed audiences and built major portions of what become her legacy. It shares a front door with the Johnny Cash Museum. Together, the two attractions can occupy hours upon hours of a visit to Music City.

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Every album cover tells another piece of the multi-faceted career of Patsy Cline. Image by Tom Adkinson

The Cline museum starts with a timeline that traces her years from humble beginnings in Winchester, Va., to a passion to perform in Nashville and ultimately to major stardom. Despite her tragic death, the museum resonates with vibrancy, nostalgia and music. Lots of music.

Beverly d’Angelo, who portrayed Cline in “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” narrates a moving tribute film that hits the highlights of Cline’s career while also showing pieces of everyday life, one of which was Cline’s dream of owning a home. She did, and several mid-century modern reminders of that house, including a stereo, are displayed.

Just across from the theater with the d’Angelo film is a clip from “Sweet Dreams” that recalls Cline’s 1957 appearance on “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” during which she performed “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Cline won that televised contest, which boosted her visibility.

Her early recordings were on 4 Star Records, and she hit the big time in Nashville with Decca. In an interesting coincidence, she made 51 recordings for 4 Star and 51 recordings for Decca. A “Greatest Hits” compilation in 2005 has sold more than 10 million units and was on Billboard’s charts for 722 weeks.

One captivating museum display allows you to put on headphones and listen to song after song Cline recorded, many with accompanying video.

“Sweet Dreams,” “Your Cheating Heart,” “San Antonio Rose,” “Crazy,” “Walking After Midnight,” “I Fall To Pieces.” The choices seem never to end, and it’s fun to watch other museum guests as they react to songs they have chosen.

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Cline wrote designer Nudie Cohen to make these performance dresses. He replied a day too late. Image by Tom Adkinson.

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Jessica Lange portrayed Patsy Cline in the 1985 biography movie “Sweet Dreams.” Image by Tom Adkinson

Cline was a groundbreaker for female singers by headlining a Las Vegas casino appearance, and one poster on display includes Cline in a Carnegie Hall package show that likely wouldn’t happen in any fashion with contemporary country artists. That New York show featured Cline, Jim Reeves, Bill Monroe, Marty Robbins, Faron Young, Grandpa Jones and Minnie Pearl.

The museum tour ends on a poignant note, something other than the plane crash. The last display is of two stage costumes, fashionable gowns, not the cowboy/western apparel she wore at other times.

These gowns have quite a tale. Cline, never a shy person, wrote famous designer Nudie Cohen and asked him to make the dresses for her. She didn’t just ask, she described them precisely and asked whether he would agree to her vision.

Nudie’s positive response was dated March 4, 1963, one day after the plane crash. He didn’t make the dresses, but Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors did in 2017 for the museum.

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Published April 6, 2018

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