The Patsy Cline Museum in Nashville opened last week with an energetic ceremony including the founders Bill and Shannon Miller, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, and Cline’s daughter Julie Fudge. The museum, located above the Johnny Cash Museum, was put together by Icon Entertainment who runs both museums that immortalize two of country music’s biggest names.
Given Patsy Cline’s tragically shortened life — Cline died in a plane crash at the age of 30 — the country singer had a short-lived career which could have posed an issue for the curators.
“She was such an iconic performer and also such an empowering woman. She was one of the first women to made such an impact in country music. She is such an inspiration to so many other female performers,” Icon Entertainment’s Director of Marketing Angela Dodson, who helped bring the museum to life alongside Fudge and the Millers.
Dodson added “It’s impressive the way that her career was so short, she died when she was 30, but she’s had such a lasting impact and is still so relevant today. We wanted to find a way to honor that legacy.”
Before her passing, Cline had done no known interviews, print or otherwise. With the help of Fudge, the Millers began to sculpt a fuller image of Cline though the singer’s history and correspondence with fans and family.
“She was a pen pal to a lot of people, just regular people,” Dodson explained. “Fans in the late 1950s would see a show or hear a record and they would reach out to her and she would write back to them. And not just ‘Thanks for writing. Best wishes, Patsy Cline.’ She would write them three page, front and back, handwritten letters about how her career was going and how life was as a mother and a wife.”
Along with never before seen home videos, the letters portray the life of the woman offstage. The museum displays pieces from Cline’s Nashville home that she purchased and decorated shortly before her death in 1963. She had referred to the house as her “dream home.”
“We’ve recreated this house, so you walk through it,” Dodson said. “It is the exact same wood paneling, the flooring, and the actual furniture that was in the house. There is also a re-creation where you can see her dining room.”
Dodson added “(Julie) had so many of these items that we were able to pull together and create the museum with. That’s kind of been her whole life, finding out about her mother through these letters and the things in the house. She has been amazing at supporting and keeping her mother’s legacy alive.”
The museum reaches even further into the singer’s past and features the actual booth from Gaunt’s Drugstore in Winchester, Va. Cline dropped out of school when her father left and worked at the diner as a soda jerk and waitress to help support her family.
When Cline began performing, her family was still far from wealthy and Patsy’s mother would sew the dresses her daughter designed. Cline would often appear in fringed clothing or sequined outfits that matched the exuberance of country music in the late 50s and early 60s.
“As she started to progress in her career, she started to see a little more success and she was finally making enough money that someone could make these costumes for her,” Dodson explained. “So she reached out to Nudie Cohn who was designing all the rhinestone suits that you would see all the country stars wear on the Grand Ole Opry and she sent him a letter with a picture of the dresses that she wanted made with the rhinestones with her sizing and everything on there. She asked him if he would create these two dresses for her.”
Nudie replied that he would be happy to make the dresses for her, but unfortunately his correspondence didn’t reach her until after her untimely death in the 1963 crash. The museum was able to locate the designs Cline sent to Nudie and had the dresses created by Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors as a send off at the end of the exhibit.
“There’s so much more to Patsy’s story that happened after her death that she unfortunately did not get to experience,” Dodson said. “But some of the other things she achieved in her career like number ones and getting a Hollywood star, different things like that happened after she was already gone. So that is all highlighted in a timeline. You see how impressive it is that 50 years after she passed away, things are still happening for her. It is kind of unheard of for someone with such a short career.”
Since’s Cline’s death, her single “Crazy,” which was written by Willie Nelson, has gone on to become the number one jukebox song of all time. Her other 1961 single “I Fall to Pieces” ranks #17 on the most-played for jukebox songs, making her the only artist to appear twice in the top 20 besides The Beatles. A classic AMI jukebox is stationed at the museum to commemorate her post-humous achievement.
Additionally, there is an entire wall at the museum dedicated to Cline’s singles. The 45s begin with her 1955 recording of “A Church, a Courtroom and Then Goodbye” that appeared on her first EP “Songs By Patsy Cline.” Over 100 sides of records line the wall, displaying the remarkable legacy she left behind through her professional recording career.
“You can see her impact professionally when you walk through the museum. It’s there in all the different records that are on the wall and you can listen to the different songs that she recorded,” Dodson said. “You get the full experience of who Patsy was as a performer, but also as a person.”