Patsy Cline and Country Music DJ Cactus Jack Call
Jack Wesley “Cactus Jack” Call (1923-1963) was a popular country music disc jockey in the Kansas City area. On January 24, 1963, Call sustained serious injuries in a car accident in Independence, Missouri, dying the following day. In order to lend assistance to Call’s widow, many of country music’s finest agreed to donate their services via several benefit concerts. One performance took place on March 2, 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama, with Patsy Cline, Tex Ritter and Jerry Lee Lewis headlining the affair.
Following the show, Cline and several other country music stars agreed to appear at a second concert in Kansas. On March 3, 1963, that benefit performance was staged at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas. Lending their talents were such country music notables as George Jones, Billy Walker, Dottie West, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins and George Riddle.
Also performing was a flu-ridden Patsy Cline. Taking the stage in a white chiffon dress, Cline wowed the audience, closing the show with a touching rendition of “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone.”
Patsy Cline’s Return Flight to Nashville
Because of bad weather, Patsy Cline and her party were forced to stay over the following day. On March 5, however, the skies had cleared, with the 30-year-old Cline calling her mother from the airport, informing her that they would be returning to Nashville shortly.
Piloting the yellow, single-engine Piper Comanche was 34-year-old Randy Hughes, Cline’s manager and a former country music recording artist himself. Also on board were 49-year-old Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas and 41-year-old Harold “Hawkshaw” Hawkins.
Cowboy Copas, Randy Hughes’ father-in-law, had scored several top ten country music hits, including “Filipino Baby” and “Alabam.” Hawkshaw Hawkins, married to country singer Jean Shepard who was pregnant with their son at the time, had also enjoyed some success, recording such hits as “Pan American” and “Slow Poke.”
Patsy Cline’s Plane Goes Down in Tennessee
The Piper Comanche first landed in Dyersburg, Tennessee, in order to take on fuel. An airfield manager made the suggestion that Hughes and his passengers stay the night, as high winds and bad weather lay ahead. Hughes declined the offer, telling the man, “I’ve already come this far. We’ll be there before you know it.”
Departing Dyersburg at 6:07 pm, the Piper Comanche hit a swatch of violent weather, going down 13 minutes later in a dense forest near Camden, Tennessee, about 90 miles from Nashville.
Nashville Mourns Patsy Cline
The news of a missing plane saturated the airwaves, with searchers later discovering the grisly crash site the following morning. When asked by reporters if the bodies had been found, Civil Defense official Dean Brewer replied, “There’s not enough to count…They’re all in small pieces.”
“4 Opry Stars Die in Crash, Plane Debris Yields Bodies At Camden” read the headline of the Nashville Banner of Wednesday, March 6, 1963, putting into indelible print what many had found almost impossible to believe.
Patsy Cline, singer of such immortal ballads as “Crazy,” “Sweet Dreams” and “Walkin’ After Midnight,” had departed this life, along with Randy Hughes, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins. It was, as one historian later put it, the darkest day in country music history.
Ironically, another Grand Ole Opry star, Jack Anglin (1916-1963), died in a car crash three days later on March 8 in Madison, Tennessee, while en route to attend a memorial service for Patsy Cline.