Ramblin' Rhodes: Barnett embraces being known always as Patsy Cline

Mandy Barnett

Patsy Cline died 12 years before Mandy Barnett was born, and yet there is no question that Barnett was born to be the actress who has emerged the closest in portraying the legendary country singer.


Ah, yes, there also was Beverly D’Angelo who portrayed Cline in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter and Jessica Lange who portrayed her in the movie Sweet Dreams.

But the truth is Barnett’s voice and physical appearance are the closest to what the real singer sounded and looked like.

Have you seen any photos of the real Cline during her brief 30 years on this Earth? She wasn’t gorgeous like D’Angelo and Lange with beauty queen faces and slim bodies, but rather an even somewhat plain and sometimes plump woman whose magnificent voice overcame her less-than-star looks.

D’Angelo did her own singing in Coal Miner’s Daughter, but it was Cline’s recordings used for Lange’s singing voice in Sweet Dreams.

You can hear Barnett sing those great Cline songs along with her own original recordings at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 11, at the Jabez Sanford Hardin Performing Arts Center in the new library in Evans.

Tickets cost $30 and $35. Call (706) 726-0366 or order online at augustaamusements.com.

But don’t expect Barnett to be dressed in costume as Patsy Cline. She only does that when she is performing the title role as an actress in the internationally known musical Always, Patsy Cline.

That’s the role the public came to know Barnett in 1994 when she starred as Cline when the musical was staged in Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium; the place that Cline herself performed as a cast member of the Grand Ole Opry.

“When we first did the show in the Ryman, I let them (show publicists and others) parade me around town in the stage costumes,” Barnett said in a recent call. “But I finally said, “I’m never showing up in costume again anywhere. I’m an actress, and I’ll portray her in costume on stage, but when I’m not on stage, I’m going to be me.”

Barnett’s standing up for herself shows exactly the same spunk that the real Cline was known for in trying to survive in the ’60s country music world dominated by male stars, male records producers, male publicists and male show bookers.

She cussed like the big boys in the back rooms. She could outdrink them at Tootsie’s nightclub (the Ryman Opry stars’ hangout), and you surely didn’t get in her face thinking she would back down.

“No way, hoss,” as she was likely to say.

When Barnett tried out in Nashville for the Patsy Cline role in Always Patsy Cline, she had no idea that it was for a long run planned for the Ryman Auditorium.

“I was overweight with chunky baby fat and 18 years old and had just moved to Nashville from Crossville, Tenn.” she recalled. “I auditioned singing Some Day You’ll Want Me To Want You, and I ended up competing with 450 women in Nashville alone. They already had held auditions in Chicago and New York. Many of those women already had played the role in earlier productions of the show.”

Nevertheless, Barnett got the coveted role and starred at the Ryman singing 27 songs every performance of Always Patsy Cline for two years.

“You know, I really do love Patsy Cline,” Barnett said. “When I was growing up and first started singing, I fell in love with her voice and her music.

“I feel confidant about my ability on stage to do her justice. That was a very important task at hand singing her songs on the Ryman Auditorium stage; to not let my nerves overcome me thinking about her being on that same stage but to let that motivate me.”

Just like Ronnie McDowell tried to get away for awhile from the albatross that came from being so closely identified early in his career with Elvis Presley, that’s what Barnett tried to do in trying to carve out her own musical identity.

She put out one of the finest albums I have ever had in my own collections with her 1996 self-titled CD that was filled with unbelievably great recordings including Planet of Love, Now That’s All Right With Me and A Simple I Love You.

About the same period, she began providing background vocals on hit recordings of other artists including Kenny Chesney’s Ain’t That Love, Kim Richey’s I’m Alright and Gail Davies’ Unwed Fathers.

But for whatever reasons, her own recordings have never brought her the super fame that her classic voice so richly has deserved. She agreed in 2009 to reprise her role of Cline in the 15th anniversary production of Always Patsy Cline staged in the Ryman.

As for her future work, Barnett said, “I’m going to hopefully start recording again soon, perform some show dates, make more guest appearances on the Opry and do some Christmas shows this year.”

She has no regrets that her desire to make her stage portrayal of Cline so accurate and real in turn also has made it difficult to be identified by her own separate artistry.

“I’ve certainly made a decent living and had a good career playing her,” Barnett added. “It’s just one of those things, and you make the best of it. And there certainly are worse things to do with your life than singing Patsy Cline songs.”


WHO: Mandy Barnett

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 11

WHERE: Jabez Sanford Hardin Performing Arts Center, Evans

TICKETS: $30 and $35; (706) 726-0366, www.augustaamusements.com