Brenda Lee is the only woman who is a member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll, Country, and Rockabilly Halls of Fame. In the 1950s, she was one of the female founders of rock ‘n’ roll. In the 1960s, she was one of the most popular artists best known for her iconic song “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” In the 1970s and 1980s, she became a major country star. In the 2000s, she began recording gospel music.
Born Brenda Mae Tarpley on December 11, 1944, in Atlanta, GA, Brenda’s recording career has spanned an unbelievable five decades. Brenda sang from the time she was very young. Her first break came in 1955 when she was only ten. She met Country & Western star Red Foley who was blown away by the little girl’s incredibly powerful voice. He put her on his popular country music television show, Ozark Jubilee, “The Junior Jamboree” edition, and Brenda was a sensation when she sang songs like “Jambalaya” and the explosive, “Dynamite.” From that day on, Brenda was nicknamed, Little Miss Dynamite.
In 1957, the family moved to Nashville where Brenda was taken under the wing of manager Dub Allbritten and legendary producer Owen Bradley. Young Brenda toured the country with stars like Patsy Cline and George Jones. By twelve, she was starring at the Grand Ole Opry. In September of 1959, Brenda rocketed to number one on the Rock ‘n’ Roll charts with “Sweet Nothings.” In 1960, Brenda hit the top of the charts with “I’m Sorry.” It was her biggest hit to date and won her both a Grammy nomination and a gold record.
Brenda continued a successful recording career by returning to her roots as a country singer with a string of hits through the 1970s and 1980s. In 1973, she recorded songwriter Kris Kristofferson’s first song, “Nobody Wins,” which hit the top ten on the Country Charts. The follow-up, the Mark James composition “Sunday Sunrise,” reached No. 6 on Billboard Magazine’s Hot Country Singles chart. Other major hits included “Wrong Ideas,” “Big Four Poster Bed,” “Rock on Baby” and “He’s My Rock.”
Inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, she has recorded hits in such diverse genres as pop, rock, easy-listening, country, polka, and R&B. tabulating their various charts, she has more than 45 Top-Ten hits and has sold more than 100 million records worldwide. In 1986, Brenda was installed in the Atlanta Music Hall of Fame.
A truly global music star, Brenda took the music she created on Nashville’s famed Music Row to more than 30 nations. She has been a top concert draw in Europe, Australia, the Far East, Latin America, Scandinavia, and Africa. She was the first pop star to record in seven languages.
Celebrating over 50 years as a recording artist in September 2006, she was the second recipient of the Jo Meador-Walker Lifetime Achievement award by the Source Foundation in Nashville. A four-time Grammy Award nominee, she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 2009.
Music journalist Robert Oermann calls Brenda “a Tennessee gift to the world. At home, she remains one of the Nashville music community’s most beloved and revered personalities.” To this day, Brenda is very involved with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, announcing the inductees each year and then officially presenting them with their membership medallions.