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No. 6: Patsy Cline – Country’s Most Powerful Women of All Time

Of course, we can’t list country music’s most powerful women of all time without including Patsy Cline. Despite a tragically short life, her tremendous legacy has given her iconic status commensurate with Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra.

Born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932, Cline grew up poor, but connected with singing early on. She was hospitalized with a serious throat infection and rheumatic fever when she was 13, and would say that incident changed her voice and contributed to the rich contralto that set her apart from other singers in the country genre.

The singer took the name of Cline from an early unsuccessful first marriage, and a manager suggested Patsy from her middle name. Cline struggled in the early part of her recording career, experimenting with honky-tonk and rockabilly while actively resisting the kind of lush ballads that would later earn her most of her success. It wasn’t until 1956 that she recorded a song called “Walkin’ After Midnight,” which became a massive hit after she sang it on national television on Arthur Godfrey’s show.

The song reached No. 2 on the country charts and No. 12 on the pop charts, making Cline one of the first country stars to cross over into the mainstream. She didn’t score her next big hit until 1961’s “I Fall to Pieces” gave her her first No. 1 hit single, but her career momentum was interrupted by a terrible car crash that nearly killed her.  She rebounded again with “Crazy,” written by a hot up-and-coming songwriter named Willie Nelson, which gave Cline her signature hit.

Cline scored another huge hit in 1962 with “She’s Got You,” and became the first female country performer to headline her own shows with top billing over male artists. But Cline’s career was not without difficulty, as she didn’t always like the pop-flavored “Nashville Sound” that made her hits so successful. She was often at odds with the male-dominated country music business, and she also longed to spend more time at home with her kids and less on the road, though her second marriage was reportedly difficult.

Friends including June Carter Cash, Loretta Lynn and Dottie West would later recall that Cline communicated a sense that she would not live a long life, and that turned out to be eerily true. She died at the age of 30 at the very height of her success in March of 1963, when a small plane carrying her from a concert in Kansas back to Nashville crashed in a storm outside of Camden, Tennessee. She scored a handful of posthumous hits including “Sweet Dreams,” and was the first female artist ever inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, a decade after her death in 1973.

Cline’s legend far outlived her in her influence on female artists including Lynn, West, Barbara Mandrell and more, as well as subsequent generations of stars, most notably LeAnn Rimes. Her life and music were immortalized in the 1985 film Sweet Dreams, which earned Jessica Lange an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of the icon. Cline’s active chart career spanned a brief five-and-a-half-year period prior to her untimely death, but her music still lives on today.

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Next: See All 30 of Country Music's Most Powerful Female Singers

Watch: Country Women Well-Represented in 2017 Taste of Country RISERS

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