Who was/is Charline Arthur ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
In the mid-Fifties, women country singers took their cue from Kitty Wells. They’d stand demurely on stage in gingham, singing of unrequited love. Then came Charline Arthur who burst forth from a rowdier universe, a place where the boogie was woogied, diamonds were flashed, and men were picked up and cast off. She was one of the few women who could hold her own on-stage with Elvis and the rockabillies. Her unpredictable temperament earned her a somewhat controversial image within the industry, which in turn matched her brassy, larger-than-life vocal style. Charline herself was not overly modest in her self-assessment: “Wanda Jackson, Brenda Lee and Patsy Cline all, in some way, patterned their styles after me,” she said. “I was a trend-setter. I was a blues singer, and I wanted to sing something different. I wanted to be an original. I was the first to break out of that Kitty Wells stereotype. I was shakin’ that thing on stage long before Elvis ever thought about it. I worked harder on stage than he ever worked.”
Born Charline Highsmith in Henrietta, Texas in September 1929, she was the second of 12 children, and when she was four, she moved with her family to Paris, Texas. By 1945, she was already singing locally on KPLT, Paris. Then a traveling medicine show came through town, and she left. In 1949, she was singing in small clubs and honky tonks, and an appearance in Dallas landed her an opportunity to record two songs for Bullet Records.
Charline was performing on KERB in Kermit, Texas when Colonel Tom Parker passed through and heard her singing on air. He brought her to the attention of the Aberbachs at Hill & Range Music, who secured the rights to her original songs and placed her with RCA. She and Elvis toured Texas together in 1955. “I did a lot of shows with Elvis,” she said, “and I came to love him dearly. He used to tell me, ‘My mama buys all your records, and sticks ‘em under my nose and makes me listen to ‘em. She thinks you’re great.’”
By the time her RCA contract expired in 1956, Charline was at odds with her label and Hill & Range, and with the music business in general. In 1965, she relocated to the west coast, and then, in 1978, retired to rural Idaho to live in a trailer on a modest $335 monthly disability pension. “I’m kind of like the old fire truck that Minnie Pearl sometimes talks about. I’m always ready, but seldom called for,” she said forlornly.
Charline Arthur died in her sleep on November 27, 1987.