“Love Always, Patsy: Letters From the Jewelry Box,” a new exhibit that opened at the Country Music Hall of Fame on Monday, June 12, is among several events honoring the life and music of Patsy Cline that are shaping the coming season as the “Summer of Patsy.” The exhibit, sponsored by 650 WSM and MCA Records/Nashville, will remain open through February 2001.
“Almost four decades after her death on March 5, 1963, Patsy Cline continues to capture the imagination and affection of growing numbers of new fans,” said Hall of Fame Marketing Manager Keith Wright, who serves as guest curator for the exhibit. “She is an enduring popular music icon who ranks with Elvis Presley as one of the most beloved singers in history. I believe this exhibit will provide real insight into Patsy, not just as a rising star, but as a wife, mother, sister, and girlfriend,” he said. “This is the lonely, tender and caring Patsy, a side of her common to women around the globe.”
As evidenced by the fact that she was the first female solo artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973, Cline was a woman who succeeded in a man’s world at a time when there was little societal support for such ambition, particularly for a married woman with children.
Her tough, brassy, bawdy persona is the one with which most fans are more familiar, but the new Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit will use Cline’s own words to present the real woman behind the goldmine of myth.
At the heart of the exhibit are 10 original letters handwritten by Cline and addressed to Treva Miller Steinbicker, an appreciative early fan who first contacted Cline to inquire about establishing a fan club for her in 1955.
Cline accepted the honor. Over a period of four years the two young women corresponded regularly and became close friends and confidantes. The letters document the period in Cline’s life just after she made her first recording, with Owen Bradley as producer, for Four Star Records, and before she signed with Decca Records and exploded internationally as a leading exponent of the Nashville Sound with hits like “I Fall to Pieces” and “Crazy.”
In Cline’s words to Steinbicker, one can find the traditional values, indefatigable determination, and “everyday housewife” struggles that fueled Cline’s musical luminescence and, 40 years later, provide a self-portrait of one of the 20th Century’s most remarkable women.
From the boards of prestigious theaters to the ironing board at home, the letters chronicle a burgeoning career and its impact on her first marriage, the stress and loneliness of touring and the excitement of personal appearances, financial hardships and her devotion to her mother and siblings, the tedium of laundry and housework between gigs, the joyous birth of her daughter and her feelings about the man who became the love of her life.
Evidenced by Cline’s interest in the events of Steinbicker’s life, it is also clear that the two women were mutual friends, and that Cline felt both affection and appreciation for her young supporter.
Many years after Steinbicker’s untimely death in 1960, one of her cousins found these obviously treasured letters in her relative’s old jewelry box. The letters, telegrams, and postcards written in hotel rooms and on airplanes, as well as from her home, are an extraordinary collection of country music memorabilia that now belongs to Memphis music collectors/authors Cindy Hazen and Mike Freeman.
Hazen and Freeman celebrated the Berkley Book publication of the collected letters, Love Always, Patsy, with the donation of one of the letters to the Hall of Fame’s archives last year. With a foreword by Trisha Yearwood, the annotated book also includes previously unpublished photographs from Steinbicker’s scrapbook. Many of the photographs and the scrapbook, which also includes such memorabilia as a clipping from the Winchester Star announcing Cline’s marriage to Pvt. Charles Allen Dick and an invitation to the wedding reception, are included in the exhibit.
Adding color and context to the original letters and photographs are video tapes of a multitude of historic performances, personal artifacts such as the star’s hairbrush and makeup accessories, and a classic royal purple “movie cowgirl” stage costume with rhinestones and fringe beautifully tailored by Cline’s mother, Hilda Hensley, who sewed for her daughter exclusively but might have given Nudie a run for his piping.
Rounding out the exhibit are the over-sized and humorous greeting card Cline signed for Owen Bradley, her “Dixie” cigarette lighter and a 40-minute documentary film The Real Patsy Cline. “Love Always, Patsy: Letters From the Jewelry Box” coincides with the MCA Records release True Love: A Standards Collection, a reissue anthology of Cline’s takes on Cole Porter’s “True Love,” Floyd Tillman’s “I Love You So Much It Hurts,” and Irving Berlin’s “Always,” among 10 additional classics.
In response to popular demand, the Ryman Auditorium — where Cline enthralled listeners to 650 WSM as a member of the Grand Ole Opry — will reprise their musical production Always, Patsy Cline this summer. The show, starring original cast members Mandy Barnett and Tere Myers, is part of the 2000 Ryman Musical Series and will run June 15 through August 12.
The Country Music Hall of Fame, the world’s largest repository of country music research, is an AMM-accredited museum where country music is treated as both a serious art form and as a larger historical chronicle. In addition to the Museum (open daily on Music Row), the Hall of Fame operates an historic reissue record label, Hatch Show Print, RCA’s Studio B, a publishing division (including a partnership with Vanderbilt University Press), and an educational outreach program serving more than 20,000 students each year.
Spanning an entire city block and soaring more than 107 feet above a lush new city park, the new $37 million Hall of Fame is located in downtown Nashville’s revitalized entertainment district near the Gaylord Entertainment Center and within sight of the historic Ryman Auditorium and the Adelphia Coliseum. The grand limestone, glass and brick building, which represents a new state of the art in museum design and symbolizes the importance of country music in America’s heritage, will open in Spring of 2001.