Julie Fudge admits that when she sees pictures of her famous mother, it’s a bit strange. The world might see the iconic singer Patsy Cline, but to her, it’s a little different. “I was only four when she passed away,” Fudge tells Billboard. “She’s almost always been a legend in my life. At the same time, the people that knew her, the fans, have kept her alive for me. There’s not many people that lost a parent 50 years ago who can say that she’s this much in her life every day. At the same time, I lived with my grandmother. My dad remarried. I have a stepmother who has been in my life for 50 years. We had more siblings, and more family members. It’s been different,” she admits.
Fans of the Country Music Hall of Fame songstress will want to make the Patsy Cline Museum a stop on their next trip to Nashville. The museum opened to the public on Friday (April 6), and Fudge participated in a media-only day, talking about the new venture and her mother. She feels her fans will definitely be enchanted by the experience. “It’s so well done, and it’s beautiful,” she said, beaming. “It’s so exciting to see everything in place and ready to go.”
There are many of Cline’s stage outfits, and recreations of rooms that were a part of her Madison, TN, home. When asked which of the exhibits brought back the most memories, she didn’t hesitate.
“I would have to say the rec room that they have recreated here is a little more comforting to me. So many of those things have been in my life — even until my dad passed away. We actually have a refrigerator here that mom and dad bought in 1957. That was in dad’s house — running — until we brought it down here. They made sure that we could plug it up here, and it’s still running to this day.”
Though there are many career-related mementos, the museum also gives fans a chance to get know Cline through the letters that she would write to fans — in an era long before the Internet and cell phones. “That’s one of the beautiful parts of it, and I’m so glad there is such an emphasis on that here. She did correspond with everyone. Nobody had access to telephones 100 percent of the time, and if you did, it was rather expensive. They weren’t rich. They were hard working people who were making ends meet. For her to be on the road, to get stationery, and write to her friends and to keep her posted was amazing. To go back and see how many of those that were saved, and the details that they have in them — things that she describes, sessions and trips that she made, how my brother and I were doing, it’s all just very interesting. It puts together a puzzle that just gets bigger every day.”
Though the home where she lived in Winchester, VA is still in operation as a museum, there is a part of her teenage years that’s now available to the public to see — the counter, a table and seats from Gaunt’s Drug Store, where Patsy worked as a soda jerk. There are also some of the awards that she earned during her brief career, a film room, and even the watch that she was wearing on that fateful flight back from Kansas City on March 5, 1963.
Though Patsy Cline is known around the world today, Fudge admits that her childhood was pretty much normal.
“From 1963, when she passed away, to dad remarrying, and then finishing high school, I was a normal kid in the neighborhood,” she recalls. “I just happened to know a few people, and my dad worked in the music business. It wasn’t until I was grown and had children that Patsy Cline was re-introduced in the Coal Miner’s Daughter movie in 1980. It’s been very different since then — not so much in my life, but the fact that it’s a business that we have to take care of. I do want to remember my mom, and be protective of her, but it is a business. Since dad’s gone (Cline’s widower and Fudge’s father, Charlie Dick, passed away in November 2015), that’s my role — to protect a legacy of not just what mom started, but what he managed and left. It’s also his legacy too.”
Beverly D’Angelo played Cline in Coal Miner’s Daughter, while Jessica Lange portrayed the singer in the 1985 biopic Sweet Dreams. What does she have to say about the latter, which depicted a rather volatile marriage between her parents? “Dad would say ‘It was a good movie, if you like fiction.’ With all due respect to the people who made the movie, and the actors who did great in their roles, you do have to remember that they only had a script. They didn’t have people to know, and as many things available for the characters. A lot of things they had to do with the movies was technical. They had to change a lot of things for technical reasons, such as how they filmed things to create a more exciting storyline. At the same time that they did, they changed a lot of things. My dad was nothing like the angry Charlie in the movie. I never saw him act that way.”
Since the passing of her father, it has become her responsibility to promote her mother’s legacy — something she doesn’t take lightly. “I found out that it is a business — one that has kept us very busy. There are a lot of things that go on daily with Patsy. We still have people wanting permission to use her music, photographs, there’s always an idea out there that somebody has, and they will come to us and talk about it.”
The fact that after all these years there is still so much interest in Cline is a little surprising to her, but she admits that the music — particularly the 1960-63 Cline recordings for Decca — still stands tall.
“It’s exciting to know that people still appreciate this kind of music. The way that she recorded, and the way that Owen Bradley produced her and directed her through the recordings that she made. They are all so classic. You can’t get away from it. There was a particular sound that they came up with. That’s where mom and Patsy Cline are separated for me,” she stated. “I’m a true fan, and I do appreciate what they did. It was magical.”
Bill Miller, founder of the Museum, said that there were some challenges putting it together. “When you go into certain ventures, you make the assumption that all the ducks are in a row, but then you realize that in Patsy’s case, we were dealing with a six-year career of someone who didn’t really make it big during her lifetime. As a result, when we went out scouting for artifacts and memorabilia, there’s a big void. Unlike many artists, concert posters are almost impossible to find. People didn’t save them because only toward the end of her career did she become a headliner.” Miller says that it wasn’t until after Charlie’s passing that he and Julie found many items in a vault.
Looking at Patsy Cline’s career through a 2017 lens, one would doubt Miller’s statements. However, she only charted 10 times on the Billboard Hot 100 prior to her passing. “We’re dealing with an artist who never had her own band. When I tell people that, they are shocked. She would go into a town and hire local musicians. What really stuns me is how she has endured. We’re dealing with an industry that if you don’t have a hit for a year, people might not even remember who you are. Here is this lady who died 54 years ago, and she is as big as any country star that has ever walked this earth.
Just as with Fudge, Miller says the correspondence was perhaps the most amazing group of items on exhibit. “There’s not a single detailed interview with her that exists — no TV interviews or print interviews. That was another challenge — how do you get to know Patsy Cline. I got to know her through reading her letters. She was generous, funny, but also dedicated to her craft.”
The Patsy Cline Museum is located on Third Avenue in Nashville, on the second floor above The Johnny Cash Museum. For more information, visit www.PatsyMuseum.com.