Sweet Dreams: The World of Patsy Cline

By Mellard, Jason | The Journal of Southern History, November 2014 | Go to article overview

Sweet Dreams: The World of Patsy Cline


Mellard, Jason, The Journal of Southern History


Sweet Dreams: The World of Patsy Cline. Edited by Warren R. Hofstra. Music in American Life. (Urbana and other cities: University of Illinois Press, 2013. Pp. [xvi], 198. Paper, $25.00, ISBN 978-0-252-07930-6; cloth, $85.00, ISBN 978-0-252-03771-9.)

There are few voices in American music as iconic as Patsy Cline's, and her work with producer Owen Bradley defined the Nashville Sound just as that city centralized and rationalized the country genre in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Warren R. Hofstra's edited collection Sweet Dreams: The World of Patsy Cline gives that voice a rich historical context. "Insofar as this book is an examination of the world of Patsy Cline," Hofstra writes, "she is the agent through which we can view certain aspects of American life and culture from the post-World War II era to today" (p. 7). Most popular music studies start with a similar premise, but few live up to its promise as Sweet Dreams does.

Sweet Dreams centers on the urbanization of the post-World War II South and the rise of a consumerist middle class forged through a national media culture, two revolutions that upended traditional southern verities of race, class, and gender. Cline's biography reflects these developments. The book follows her from her agrarian roots to the northern Virginia town of Winchester and her career from Washington, D.C., to the country music capital of Nashville. In dropping rural fiddle for melodious strings and barn dance hokum for sensuous pop chanteuse, her music also reflected these changes in postwar American life. The smooth Nashville Sound did not betray country's agrarian audience, in this reading, but served as a logical soundtrack to the aspirations of Cline's southern generation.

The range and quality of authors are impressive. Bill C. Malone sets the stage by elaborating on the broad transformations in southern life and culture framed in the introduction. Hofstra and the late Mike Foreman then move to the particulars with a history of Cline's hometown of Winchester. The case study locates the collection's argument in a specific geography, detailing Winchester's evolving political economy from agricultural to industrial to service work in the years of Cline's upbringing. Cline's colleague George Hamilton IV contributes a brief reminiscence about her vibrant character as a strong woman on the Washington, D.C., circuit that also nurtured Roy Clark and Jimmy Dean. Beth Bailey interprets Cline's story as a lesson on the changing meanings of respectability and success in the postwar moment. Cline's raucous reputation and social climbing may have offended the patrician hierarchies of the South, but these elements mattered less as prosperity and cultural norms carved out a space for those formerly marginalized. …

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