I worship Patsy Cline, and I’ve always wanted to make a pilgrimage to see where this talented woman lived and what inspired her work. So when I had the opportunity to visit Winchester, Virginia, it was a dream come true.
I wasn’t expecting her house to be impressive; after all, Virginia “Ginny” Patterson Hensley was raised by her single mother Hilda Patterson Hensley in what was back then considered “the wrong side of Winchester.” Still, the small wood-sided house looked homey, and you could tell upon entering that her mother did her best to give Patsy and her younger brother and sister a comfortable place to live.
The thing that struck me most was just how similar it was to hundreds of other houses of the time, including my own grandmother’s place. It seemed that nothing had changed, from the flower-patterned couch to the “Nearer My God to Thee” sheet music on the piano; even her mother’s foot-powered sewing machine was still in place, accompanied by annotated drawings by Patsy herself, who helped design all of the clothes (for her 26” waist!) that her mother made.
As a huge fan, I was most touched by the scratchy, oft-played recording of a 16-year-old Patsy appearing for the first time on Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts, where she sang “Walking after Midnight” to a very appreciative audience. Despite the tremor in her voice when the host asked her about her previous albums, which she admitted didn’t sell well, you could still hear the magic that has attracted listeners like me for the past 50 years.
You learn so much from visiting a person’s home, whether it’s a future star, a full-blown celebrity like Elvis, or just someone you admire. It was hard to believe that the woman who had more than 100 hits before her untimely death in 1963 used to share a small, one-room upstairs bedroom with the entire family. Or that she found a way to get all decked out for her singing appearances in a bathroom that was too small to contain even a toilet; for years, the family used an outhouse in the backyard.
There are other places to pay tribute to Patsy around Winchester; the high school that she attended for two months still stands, as does WINC, the radio station where she used to sing. Her grave is located minutes out of town at Shenandoah Memorial Park—situated right off the parking lot beside a small bench, it features her married name of Virginia H. (Patsy Cline) Dick, and it’s a popular place for visitors to leave pennies—a tradition believed to bring good luck.
Now that I’ve whetted my appetite to learn more about my favorite artists, I’m planning future road-trips, including a visit to Louis Armstrong’s Queens, NY apartment and the Allman Brothers Home and Museum in Macon, GA. There are also other artists’ homes that you can visit, including Frank Sinatra’s Palm Springs home, Johnny Cash’s childhood home in Arkansas, Ray Charles’ boyhood home in Greenville, FL, and of course, the Holy Grail—Graceland, Elvis’ home in Memphis, TN.
While I definitely learned more about Patsy’s life through my visit, I think what’s more important is that I got a sense of who she was and all of the obstacles that she had to overcome to become such a shining star. More than just a singer, Patsy became a real person to me, making me an even bigger fan than before.
Want to plan your own musical pilgrimage?
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