Patsy Cline would have turned 84 years old on Sept. 8. Her untimely death in a plane crash at age 30 left the music world in shock, and wanting more of her signature singing style. On the evening of Sept. 29, Cline’s music will echo through the halls of Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in Rockville for a first-ever, two-hour Patsy Cline Tribute concert.
Since 1988, the Takoma Park-based nonprofit, The Institute of Musical Traditions (IMT), has sought “to preserve and promote American and international folk music traditions and nurture new styles evolving from these cultural roots by presenting concerts, workshops, and educational programs.” IMT board member Jess Eliot Myhre put together this evening of pure Patsy. Performers will include Myhre, a swing and blues singer and clarinet player, as well as Karen Collins, Letitia VanSant and Melissa Wright. Collins’ regular band, The Backroads Band, will be the house band, backing all four vocalists.
“You’ll hear songs as [Cline] recorded them, as well as some of them treated uniquely different,” said Myhre, who conceived of the idea for a tribute after speaking with Wright, a singer-songwriter who holds an annual Patsy Cline Music Festival in Winchester, Va.
Most people associate Cline with Nashville. In fact, she’s a native of Winchester, and a member of the Washington Area Music Association Hall of Fame. The daughter of a seamstress and blacksmith, Cline had two siblings and sang in church with her mother. She was self-taught and could not read music. In fact, it appears Cline’s musical talent surfaced quite by accident. When she was 13, she was hospitalized with a throat infection and rheumatic fever. Cline has been quoted with the as saying, “The fever affected my throat and when I recovered, I had this booming voice like Kate Smith.”
Cline became a household name in 1961, with the release of “I Fall to Pieces.” She went on to break many “female first” barriers, including: first female country music star to headline her own show and receive billing above the male stars with whom she toured; first woman in country music to perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall; and first woman in country music to headline her own show in Las Vegas
Myhre called Cline “a lovely and rare pairing — an advocate for women who could hang with the boys.” “I didn’t know how much of a go-getter she was. I was really pulled in by her story. I wanted to get to know her music more after learning more about her as a female music pioneer,” she added.
Wright has been performing and studying Cline since she was a kid growing up in Round Hill, Va., which is near Winchester. While a skilled Cline cover artist, Wright said, “I’m most looking forward to sharing Patsy’s …stories with the audience.”
Another tribute performer, singer-songwriter-storyteller Letitia VanSant, shared why she is drawn to Cline’s music. “Classic country exemplifies tight songwriting that gets straight to the point, and Patsy Cline vocals always dig deep into heartbreak,” she said. “It’s very rewarding—therapeutic, almost—to try and sing like her.”
Karen Collins, of the honky tonk country music group The Backroads Band, is also a country two-step fixture, so the evening will feature a dance floor in the back of the concert call for fans who want to bring their dancing shoes.
IMT’s Patsy Cline tribute concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Saint Mark Presbyterian Church, 10701 Old Georgetown Road, Rockville. Tickets are $20 in advance; $25 at the door. Students (with ID) and children are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. All tickets are general admission. For information, visit imtfolk.org.