Remembering Patsy Cline

Kathy King Johnson Executive Director Cheboygan Area Arts Council

Tribute singers and tribute bands  take on famous musicians as their inspiration and pay tribute to them through their music. You’ve heard them or heard of them at the Opera House, Johnny Cash, Glenn Miller and Tom Petty.  We will soon be bringing Patsy Cline and Gordon Lightfoot. There is something about each tribute singer’s relationship with their individual muse that is complicated, passionate, reverent and sometimes just, well, a little crazy.

I just watched “Sweet Dreams,” a 1980s movie about Patsy Cline starring Jessica Lange and the youngest Ed Harris you’ve ever seen. Holy moly. It’s the lyingest, cheatingest, drinkingest, saddest heartbreak story ever. And I thought, “that’s country music.”

So when I interviewed Judy Harrision, the Patsy Cline tribute artist coming to the Opera House, I asked her why, why Patsy Cline? She said, “Patsy has this sad edge to her voice and she gets under your skin.  I have the fever.”

Harrison has an amazing voice that fits the genre, and she can belt the songs with passion and emotion. Like Patsy, she has power tempered with emotion, reaching the ranges with that same “cry” in her voice that makes country what it is. “I was blessed with good lungs,” Harrison says, “and these songs speak to me.”

We know these classic country songs in our soul and we still hear them constantly. “You walk into a bar and you hear Patsy Cline,” Harrison says. “Her songs are in movies and commercials, on radio and TV.” Young people who might not know her name hear her songs and know them. Harrision loves it when audiences sing every word with her.

The message in her songs is the almost always the same, the universal mourning of a broken heart, loved and left, but still in love, deep feelings that bring smiles or tears.  Patsy died tragically in 1963 when she was only 30 years old. Her songs outlive her, as true today as they were 56 years ago, spanning generations, classical, iconic, timeless.

Remembering Patsy Cline with Judy Harrison is Saturday Oct. 12 at 7:30. Tickets are on sale at the Opera House at 231-627-5841 or at

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