Exhibit shows singer’s early life

By Ryan Cornell

WINCHESTER — A new exhibit opening Friday at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley will show the early life and rise to fame of country star Patsy Cline.

Cline, born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932, would spend most of her 30 years in the Shenandoah Valley.

Not only did she spend the majority of her life in the valley, exhibition manager Corwyn Garman said, but also her ancestors lived in the area stretching back to the early 19th century.

“One of the points we make in the introduction is that she’s our greatest cultural icon,” he said. “She’s the valley’s greatest cultural icon and we really want you to understand what that means.”

This area often identifies with George Washington or Stonewall Jackson or folks who have made some impact here, Garman said, but they aren’t really from here and didn’t spend their lives here.

A map of the region shows the various towns the Hensley family moved to, including Edinburg, Middletown and Winchester.

Winchester, where Cline was born and attended school — until dropping out after eighth grade — also is where she received her first piano and discovered her love for music. But, as illustrated near the start of the exhibit, it wasn’t always so easy.

“We found this report card from 1942,” Garman said. “She’s in the fourth grade and she takes music, gets a ‘C’ and drops the class.”

The 2,600-square-foot gallery displays a collection of the various dresses Cline wore and the Singer sewing machine that her mother used to create them, the original microphone she used in the WINC-AM studio and rare photographs of her as a child with her family.

One of these photographs, blown up to larger-than-life size, shows the singer sitting on a porch glider at her home in 608 South Kent Street. Underneath the picture is the same cushioned chair.

At a time when the radio could be listened to in the car and a voice could be heard from across the country, Cline was the biggest star.

“She always kind of bridges the gap between pop singer and country artist,” Garman said. “That really makes her even more of a unique American voice, a legendary voice.”

Julie Armel, director of marketing and public relations at the museum, sees the exhibit as an important stop for information about the cultural icon.

“What we’re hoping people will do is make a pilgrimage,” she said. “Come here and get introduced to Patsy or learn a little bit about her early career, and then explore the Shenandoah Valley, of course visit the historic house in Winchester, see the cemetery, do a drive-by of other places that are significant to her.”

The museum, located at 901 Amherst St., will run the exhibit from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays until Feb. 2.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com