‘This Ol’ Country Gal’: Patsy Cline’s Loudoun Roots

By Travis Shaw

To people in these parts, Patsy Cline hardly needs an introduction, but most may be unaware of her connections to Loudoun County.  

This singing superstar’s Loudoun roots will be celebrated at the Piedmont Heritage Area Association’s tribute Feb.12 in the Purcellville Tabernacle—the same venue where she performed at a 1957 New Year’s party. 

Although known to the world as Patsy Cline, she was born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932, in Winchester to 16-year-old Hilda and 43-year-old Sam Hensley. 

A metal worker and veteran of the Great War, Sam was hot-tempered and abusive.  Because he had trouble keeping a job, he made his family itinerant. By one account, they moved at least a dozen times before Virginia was 15 years old. Throughout such hardship, uncertainty, trauma and forced mobility, Virginia found solace in music. Neighbors and friends recalled how she idolized Shirley Temple, and could often be found singing and dancing. By age eight, she learned to play piano by ear, and frequently sang alongside her mother in church gatherings. 

During this period, her family’s wanderings brought Virginia to reside in Loudoun County. In 1941, at age nine, she moved with her family into a house on Loudoun Street in Round Hill, and attended the elementary school in town (now the Round Hill Support Center, located off High Street). The family did not long remain in Round Hill, however, departing to several locations across Virginia.

In 1945, Virginia experienced a life-changing event. She was hospitalized with a severe throat infection. She later claimed her “heart stopped beating,” and the doctors “brought her back to life.” When she recovered, she found her voice was permanently altered, giving her a “voice that boomed like Kate Smith’s.” The next year, she was given her first opportunity to sing on the radio, at Winchester’s WINC. 

The family returned to Loudoun in 1947, renting a house at Sleeter’s Orchard, just west of Round Hill (site of today’s Hill High store). While living in Round Hill, Virginia attended the Lincoln School—the secondary school for students in western Loudoun. As an eighth-grader, she had a reputation for a hot temper, but a mature demeaner and appearance. 

Before long, the family moved yet again, to a house on South Kent Street in Winchester. Sam then abandoned the family, leaving them “as poor as church mice.” Virginia dropped out of school and began working to support her family, waitressing at area restaurants and drug store food counters.

Despite her busy work schedule, Virginia continued to dream of being a famous singer/musician. She began performing at local theaters and on WINC radio. Her mother sewed elaborate western-style outfits for her, and accompanied her to performances. She even drove the then 16-year-old Virginia to Nashville to audition for the Grand Ole Opry, only to find the age minimum was 18. 

A newspaper ad for Patsy Cline’s 1957 New Year’s show.

Undeterred, Virginia continued to appear at clubs and roadhouses around the Winchester area. By 1952, she linked up with local band leader Bill Peer, and with his “Melody Boys,” they played at venues throughout Northern Virginia, central Maryland, Washington, DC, and eastern West Virginia. It was Bill Peer who suggested that “Virginia” was too fancy, and she should take “Patsy” (derived from Patterson) as her stage name.

One of the band’s more frequent haunts was the Moose Lodge in Brunswick, MD, a railroad town whose rough-and-tumble reputation did not deter western Loudouners from visiting. Crowds crossed the Potomac River from nearby Lovettsville and Purcellville to enjoy the raucous nightlife. During her performances at the Moose Lodge, Patsy met Gerald Cline of Frederick, MD, and in March 1953, he became her first husband.

Soon afterward, Patsy competed at the National Music Festival in Warrenton, where she won third place and was introduced to singer Jimmy Dean, star of the popular Washington radio and television show “Town and Country Time.” Patsy performed regularly with Dean and his “Texas Wildcats” through the next few years, and also fronted a local group known as the Kountry Krackers, appearing during the mid-1950s at venues throughout Maryland and Virginia.

In 1955, Patsy Cline signed her first record deal. Even so, she remained a regional star. Her performances on Dean’s “Town and Country Time” show increased her popularity, but she found limited commercial success nationwide. That status would change in 1957, thanks to TV host and Loudoun resident Arthur Godfrey. Patsy flew to New York to appear on Godfrey’s nationally televised program, “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.” Performing on national television for the first time on Jan. 21, Cline won the night’s contest with the song “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Her performance took the country music world by storm; “Walkin’” reached number 2 on the Billboard Country charts and number 12 on the pop charts. Patsy performed on Godfrey shows several more times that year, and in August, released her first studio album.

Even while her national stature rose, Cline continued to perform locally. On New Year’s Eve 1957, she reunited with the Kountry Krackers for a show at the Purcellville Skating Rink (the Busch Tabernacle). Few of the partygoers could have guessed the extent of the recognition Patsy Cline was destined to achieve: The first woman inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (posthumously in 1973), and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award (posthumously in 1995), in a career cut short at age 30 by her tragic death in a 1963 airplane crash.

Although her career was brief, she became one of the first female country superstars, and one of the first to see widespread crossover success in pop music. Her distinctive style continues to influence country music to this day, and she is remembered as a legend of 20th century music. Although she left Virginia for Nashville in 1960, she would always begin her performances by reminding the audience that she was an “ol’ country gal from Virginia.”

The ol’ country gal’s voice and songs return to Purcellville on Feb. 12. The public is invited to join the celebration. Tickets may be purchased online at piedmontheritage.org/events ($35 individuals, $60 couples, 12 and under free). Some of Patsy’s many big hits will be performed by Bess Putnam, Amy Potter and the Virginia Pickers Collective, and original recordings will be played between the live sets.

In Our Backyard

Travis Shaw is director of Education for the Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area Association.  In Our Backyard is compiled by the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition. For more information about the organization, go to loudouncoalition.org.

3 thoughts on “<strong>‘This Ol’ Country Gal’: Patsy Cline’s Loudoun Roots</strong>

  • 2022-02-03 at 11:42 am

    So many well-known folks have lived in Loudoun, in addition to Patsy Cline. To name just a few: James Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy, Pamela Harriman, Dr. Ben Carson, Willard Scott, Madeleine Albright, George Marshall, Billy Mitchell & Arthur Godfrey. Moreover, many dignitaries have visited Loudoun, particularly when attending functions at Belmont Manor. In short, Loudoun is a glorious place to live & visit. It never should be sold short. Happy Black History Month Loudoun!

  • 2022-02-03 at 7:31 pm

    And did you know that Arthur Godfrey is buried in the Union Street Cemetery in Leesburg. I found it a year or so ago. It is plain marker.

  • 2022-02-03 at 8:44 pm

    Actually, Willard Scott lived in Fauquier County..just off 17 near Sky Meadows

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