CJ Harding as Patsy Cline
By Patty Ewald
Tampa Bay Times
CJ Harding was an 8-year-old girl when she met Elvis.
It was in Savannah, Ga., in June 1956 — six months after he recorded Heartbreak Hotel and Blue Suede Shoes, six months before his first film, Love Me Tender, premiered and a mere three weeks after his sexy bumping and grinding to Hound Dog on the Milton Berle Show got him dubbed Elvis the Pelvis.
CJ and her friend Cecile, who were in shorts and no shoes, were standing outside the Sports Arena where he was to appear, which just happened to be in their neighborhood. (It was back in the day when parents thought it was safe to let kids roam the neighborhood.)
One of the policemen guarding the entrance to the arena befriended the starry-eyed girls and told them if they were good, he would try to take them back to Elvis’ dressing room to meet (meet!) him and maybe get his autograph.
The policeman told them that Elvis would sneak in through the back while an empty limo would drive near the throng of screaming fans as a ruse. That’s when the policeman rushed them into the back of the building and into Elvis’ dressing room.
“He was just standing right there with a gold jacket on and black pants. His hair was different than anybody I had ever seen. It was long and wavy and combed back with a lot of hair product. He must have had trouble with acne, because he had some scarring and makeup on.
“He seemed restless and said, ‘How are you little girls doin’?’ ” Then he asked them if they wanted a picture of him.
Of course they said yes. That signed 8-by-10 black-and-white was a prized possession — it went to show-and-tell before being tacked on her bedroom wall where she could kiss it over and over again — until it sort of fell apart and disappeared, she said.
Touched by the King, this little 8-year-old girl would never be the same.
CRAZY ABOUT PATSY
It’s as if CJ Harding’s embodiment of Patsy Cline was written in the stars, out of her control.
She always had show biz in her blood and her goal has always been to be on the concert stage. She’s been singing songs and playing her guitar since she taught herself how when she was 14.
Harding worked in the film industry in Vancouver, British Columbia, often called the Hollywood of the north. She did acting, modeling, dancing and costume designing.
In commercial advertisements, she pitched Budweiser, orange juice and panty liners.
And, in her most “famous” role, she had a bit part in the 1989 movie Cousins, with Ted Danson.
She moved to St. Petersburg in 1992 to take care of her dad after her mom died. She jammed in Ybor City. When she played her songs, audiences liked her but whenever she played a Patsy song, they loved her.
So, she put together a tribute and took it on the road — on cruise ships, at fairs, in Las Vegas and the Largo Cultural Center — to sellout crowds.
She has been accompanied by a band in the past but for the last 16 years, she’s been doing her Patsy performance with taped musical tracks.
That will change March 9 and 10 when she brings Sweet Dreams, a special tribute to Cline, who, if she hadn’t died in a plane crash in 1963, would have been 80 last September, to the 800-seat Palladium in St. Petersburg with a band she pieced together from Craigslist.
A Craigslist hunt is risky but it panned out big time for Harding. She’s delighted with her band.
All transplants from other parts of the country, they now reside in Pinellas County: B.J. Steinberg on lead guitar, David Hardy on piano, Jay O’Neal on bass, Stephen Buckholtz on drums and T.J. Weger on guitar.
Harding, unlike other impersonators, does not do a myriad of entertainers. She performs only as Patsy Cline. She also gave a lecture this year on Cline’s life as part of the biography series at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Eckerd College.
“I do performing arts stages, not bars and lounges. My goal all along has been to be on a concert stage,” Harding said.
She is a songwriter herself and is still hoping to sell one of her songs one day.
CJ Harding’s Sweet Dreams, A Patsy Cline Tribute, appears at the Palladium for two shows. Saturday, March 9 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 10 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $28 and $35 and available at mypalladium.org or by calling 727 822-3590.
To read the full story follow this link: http://www.tampabay.com/features/humaninterest/senior-impersonators-delight-as-elvis-dolly-marilyn-and-johnny-in-gowns/1276607