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ArtistBrenda Lee

Referenced from

Music Style Rock n Roll

For The Record...
Born Brenda Mae Tarpley on December 11, 1944, in Lithonia, GA;
daughter of Ruben Lindsey and Annie Grayce (Yarborough) Tarpley;
married Ronald Shacklett, 1963;
children: Julie Leann, Jolie.

Sang on local Atlanta radio show "Starmaker's Revue"; sang on Atlanta television show, TV Ranch, c. 1951–54; appeared in concerts with country star Red Foley and appeared on nationwide television shows, including the Steve Allen Show, Ed Sullivan Show, and Red Skelton Show during the mid-1950s; recording artist and concert performer, 1956–; appeared in the film The Two Little Bears, 1961; appeared on various national television programs, including Thank Your Lucky Stars, Hullabaloo, The Dean Martin Show, and Hee Haw, 1960s and 1970s; cameo appearance in the film Smokey and the Bandit II, 1980; appeared with Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, and Willie Nelson in the televised special The Winning Hand, 1985; co-starred in televised special Legendary Ladies of Rock & Roll, 1988; appeared in Beth Harrington's documentary Welcome to the Club: The Women of Rockabilly, 2001; was the subject of an A&E Biography episode, Brenda Lee—Little Miss Dynamite, 2001; wrote autobiography with Robert K. Oermann and daughter Julie Clay, Little Miss Dynamite: The Life and Times of Brenda Lee, 2002.

Awards: Cash Box, "Most Programmed Female Vocalist," for several consecutive years during the late 1950s and early 1960s; Georgia Music Hall of Fame, inductee, 1984; Country Music Hall of Fame, inductee, 1997; Rockabilly Hall of Fame, inductee, 1999; Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, inductee, 2002.

Addresses: Record company—MCA Records, 70 Universal Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608, website: Management—Brenda Lee Productions, Inc., P.O. Box 101188, Nashville, TN 37210, phone: (615) 256-3054, fax: (615) 256-2499. Website—Brenda Lee Official Website: Booking—Monterey Peninsula Artists, Inc., Contact: Bobby Chudd, 124 12th Ave. S., Ste. 410, Nashville, TN 37203, phone: (615) 251-4400, fax: (615) 251-4401, e-mail:

Brenda Lee was one of the most popular female vocalists of the 1950s and 1960s. She began as a child star, making musical guest appearances on television variety shows and putting out hits like "I'm Sorry," "Sweet Nothin's," and the perennial holiday classic "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." When her success in the pop genre began to fade, she returned to her country music roots to release songs such as "Big Four-Poster Bed" and "He's My Rock." As Brock Helander affirmed in his book The Rock Who's Who, Lee has "a voice equally adept at mournful ballads and at hard-belting rock songs."

A Child Prodigy
Lee was born Brenda Mae Tarpley on December 11, 1944, to a very poor family. The situation was exacerbated by the death of her father, Ruben, in a construction accident. Her mother, Anne, did her best to support young Brenda and her three siblings, but the family was always short on food and clothing, and could scarcely afford medical care. Fortunately, young Brenda was blessed with the musical abilities that would lift her family out of poverty. A precociously talented child, she could hear a song twice and then sing it from memory. "I don't know that I had any early influences," she told Blue Suede News. "About the only music I heard growing up was through the church—the gospel music, and my mom used to sing me Hank Williams songs. But that was about it." She was singing publicly by the time she was four years old, and won first prize at a local spring festival for singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" when she was five or six. (She was disappointed when she was awarded only candy; she knew her family needed cash to survive.) Encouraged, Lee's mother began taking her to talent auditions, and when she was seven she became a regular on the Atlanta radio show "Starmaker's Revue," where her stage name became Brenda Lee. This opportunity led to frequent guest appearances on the local television show TV Ranch. Singing anywhere that provided a band and a paycheck—including honkytonks and bars—Lee became the sole support of her family by the time she was nine years old.

A Major Star with Adults and Teens Lee became acquainted with country star Red Foley and with his manager, Dub Albritten. Connected and hardworking, Albritten made things happen for the youngster. She made concert appearances with Foley, which brought her to the attention of the nationwide television variety shows. Soon television hosts such as Steve Allen, Red Skelton, and Ed Sullivan had invited her to sing on their programs. By 1956 record companies were competing to sign her, and Lee eventually settled with the Decca label. She scored a minor success with "One Step at a Time." Just barely a teenager, young Lee began touring, facing huge audiences and some controversy. Albritten took her to France, where he spread the rumor that Lee was in reality a 32-year-old midget instead of a 12-year-old girl. The furor resulted in a windfall of favorable publicity when audiences and reviewers alike heard how good the young songstress was on stage. Consequently she became a headliner in Europe before she had sizeable hits in her home country.

Lee's early efforts were smart little growlers such as "Bigelow 6-2000," "Jambalaya,"and "Jump Over The Broomstick." Today's rockabilly cult audiences prize these performances, but they were tepid sellers upon their initial release. Her first true smash hit was 1960's humorous "Sweet Nothin's," sung from the point of view of a teenage girl on a porch swing with her boyfriend. In the same year she enjoyed a two-sided hit with the heartbreak ballad "I'm Sorry," which was backed with the up-tempo Jerry Reed-penned "That's All You Gotta Do." Lee gives much of the credit for her commercial breakthrough to legendary producer Owen Bradley, who employed Nashville's "A-Team"—pianist Floyd Cramer, saxman Boots Randolph, drummer Buddy Harman, bassist Bob Moore, and guitarists Grady Martin and Hank Garland. According to Lee, these seasoned music veterans respected her. "They were like my big brothers," she told Blue Suede News. "They were like my buddies and they always respected me."

Lee's biggest smash, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," was originally recorded in 1958, but a 1960 holiday reissue resulted in the biggest selling record of her career, and later re-releases would continue to garner heavy airplay. Lee told Blue Suede News about that recording session. "I recorded that in July of 1958, if I'm not mistaken. It was in the summer and Owen [Bradley] had it all Christmasy up in the studio—Christmas tree and the whole nine yards, to get me in the mood." In 1961 Lee continued her remarkable chart run with the "Dum Dum," and the ballads "Fool Number One," "Break It to Me Gently," and "All Alone Am I" followed the next year. Channeling the same blend of gospel, country, blues, and rock that comprised Elvis Presley's style, Lee made records that were as popular with adults as they were with kids. Part of the singer's appeal came from the fact that, when she wasn't recording, touring, or appearing on major network TV shows, Lee was an ordinary teenager, with an ordinary teenager's problems. She told Blue Suede News, "Boys would come and talk to me about girls that they wanted to date but never wanted to date me. So, I could relate to 'All Alone Am I,' 'I Want to be Wanted,' and all those songs I was singing."

Lee's hard work and great success did wonders for her family; they enjoyed a fine home in Nashville, and her brother and two sisters received the benefits of a college education. Unlike many other child stars, Lee does not feel any bitterness about supporting her family. "I was just always proud that I was able to do it," she declared. "I never got to the point where I said, 'Hey I'm sick of this and you all have deprived me of my childhood.' I never went through that syndrome."

Returned to Country Music
Like many other American musicians facing the onslaught of the mid-1960s musical British Invasion, Lee's chart momentum slowed considerably, although she was constantly booked for live appearances. She dabbled briefly in British Invasion sounds, even recording a blistering version of "Is it True," with future Led Zepplin founder Jimmy Page on guitar. However, Decca decided to move her toward the Adult Contemporary charts, and had her record pop standards and special projects with bandleader Pete Fountain. Her last pop hits were "Too Many Rivers" and "Coming on Strong," in 1965 and 1966, although she received a Grammy nomination in 1969 for her recording of "Johnny One Time."

Undaunted, Lee began recording and performing country music again. Her previous pop hits had been well received by country audiences, and they quickly welcomed her new efforts. Recording with the same musicians and producer she had always used in Nashville, her first foray onto the exclusively country charts was 1971's "Is This Our Last Time." An even better year for Lee was 1974, when she had five country hits, including perhaps her biggest smash in the genre, the romantic "Big Four-Poster Bed." The next year, she scored again with "Bringing It Back" and "He's My Rock."

During the 1980s Lee continued to make the country charts with "The Cowboy and the Dandy," "Broken Trust," and "Every Now and Then." With her strong vocals, even Lee's contributions to other artists' recordings received attention. She put her voice to work on "Honky Tonk Angels' Medley," a cut on country singer k.d. lang's Shadowland album, causing Alanna Nash of Stereo Review to report that Lee "almost steals the show."

Lee left Decca, which had become MCA, in 1985, eventually suing the company for unpaid royalties. Signing with Warner Brothers, in 1990 she recorded two albums and toured internationally with as much gusto as she always did, but began suffering exhaustion-related illnesses. A cyst on her vocal chords sidelined her during the late 1990s, but she resurfaced in top form, playing fewer gigs that were spaced farther apart. The first woman to be inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Lee is still a big star in Europe, where she has released recordings in German and Japanese. The diminutive belter, who barely measures 4-foot 11 inches in heels, says she is not amazed by the continuing popularity of the early rock 'n' roll of which she was a pioneer. "Those were really good songs," she told Blue Suede News. "You tell me another era that will have songs that forty years later people will be singing and re-recording. Or, they'll go see the artists that had 'em and start applauding when they sing 'em. I don't know that there's another era quite like that."

ArtistBrenda Lee

Referenced from

Music Style:Rock n Roll

Brenda Lee, née Brenda Mae Tarpley (born December 11, 1944 in Atlanta, Georgia), is an American country-pop singer, who was popular during the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1960s she had more charted hits than any other woman, and only three male singers/groups (Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and The Beatles) outpaced her. She was one of the earliest pop stars to have a major contemporary international following.

She was given the nickname Little Miss Dynamite after recording Dynamite in 1957; the explosive strength of the sound pouring out of her small frame amazed audiences and promoters. Her general popularity faded as her voice suffered damage and matured in the late 1960s, but she successfully continued her recording career by returning to her roots as a country singer. She was able to chart in Billboard's country-western top-ten twice in 1980.

She enjoys one distinction unique among successful American singers; her opening act on a UK tour in the early 1960s was a little-known beat group from Liverpool, England: The Beatles.

Early Years
Lee's father, Ruben Tarpley, was born roughly halfway between Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia. He was the son of a hardscrabble farmer in Georgia's red-clay belt, which was devastated by soil depletion and the boll weevil. Although he stood only 170 cm (5 feet 7 inches), he was an excellent left-handed pitcher, and spent 11 years in the Army playing baseball. Her mother, Annie Grayce Yarbrough, had a similar background of an honest, uneducated working class family in Greene County, Georgia, although she had the distinction of a Cherokee great-grandparent.

Brenda was born Brenda Mae Tarpley in the charity ward of Grady Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 11, 1944. She weighed 2126 g (4 pounds 11 ounces) at birth. She attended grade schools wherever her father found work, primarily in the corridor between Atlanta and Augusta. Her family was poor, living hand-to-mouth; she shared a bed with her two siblings in a series of three-room houses without running water. Life centered around her parents' finding work, their extended family, and the Baptist Church (where she sang solos every Sunday).

She was a musical prodigy. Although her family did not have indoor plumbing until after her father's death, they had a battery-powered table radio that fascinated Brenda as a baby. By the time she was two, she would hear songs on the radio once and be able to whistle the complete tune.[4] Both her mother and sister remember taking her repeatedly to a local candy store before she turned three; one of them would stand her on the counter and she would earn free candy or small coins for singing.

Her voice, pretty face, and complete absence of stage fright won her wider attention from the time she was five years old. At age 6, she won a local singing contest sponsored by the elementary schools. The reward was a live appearance on an Atlanta radio show, "Starmakers Revue".

Her father died in 1953. By the time she turned ten, she had become the primary breadwinner of her family by singing at events and on local radio and television shows.

Her break into big-time show business came when she turned down paid employment — $30 to sing on a local television station in Atlanta — in order to hear Red Foley and the Ozark Jubilee in Augusta. An Augusta DJ convinced Foley to hear her sing before the show. Foley was as transfixed as everyone else who heard the huge voice coming from the tiny girl and immediately agreed to let her to perform the Hank Williams standard Jambalaya on stage that night, unrehearsed. Foley later recounted the moments following her introduction:

I still get cold chills thinking about the first time I heard that voice. One foot started patting rhythm as though she was stomping out a prairie fire but not another muscle in that little body even as much as twitched. And when she did that trick of breaking her voice, it jarred me out of my trance enough to realize I'd forgotten to get off the stage. There I stood, after 26 years of supposedly learning how to conduct myself in front of an audience, with my mouth open two miles wide and a glassy stare in my eyes.

The audience erupted in applause and refused to let her leave the stage until she had sung three more songs. She was eleven years old and well under five feet tall. (As an adult, she was variously reported to stand between 140 and 145 cm tall: 4' 7" and 4' 9".)

Less than two months later — on July 30, 1956 — Decca Records offered her a recording contract. She began her recording career at age 11 with rockabilly songs like "BIGELOW 6-200" (a telephone number with the numerals pronounced six two oh oh) and "Little Jonah." The song "Dynamite", coming out of a 145-cm frame (4 foot 9 inch), led to her lifelong nickname, "Little Miss Dynamite."

Along with Connie Francis, she was one of the first female idols, achieving huge popularity with a long string of hits. At Christmas 1958, she released "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," which sold only 5,000 copies during its initial release. However, it would eventually sell over five million copies. Disc jockeys also dubbed her "Little Miss Razz Matazz" after her husky, pounding voice belted out her first U.S. Top 10 hit, "Sweet Nothin's," in late 1959.

[edit] The Height of Her Career Brenda Lee first attracted attention performing in country music venues, and her first single, 1957's "One Step at a Time", was a country hit. However, her label and management felt it best to market her exclusively as a pop artist, the result being that none of her best-known recordings from the 1960s were released to country radio, and despite her obvious country sound, she would not have another country hit until 1969.

Brenda Lee came to her biggest success on the Pop charts in the late 1950s through the mid 1960s with rockabilly and rock and roll styled songs. Her biggest hits during this time include a rockabilly version of the country classic "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)," "Sweet Nothin's" (written by the country musician Ronnie Self), "I Want to Be Wanted," "All Alone Am I," and "Fool #1".

The overall biggest selling track of Lee's career is, oddly enough, a Christmas song. In 1958, when she was 13, Owen Bradley asked her to record a new song written by Johnny Marks, who had had success writing Christmas tunes for country singers, most notably "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (Gene Autry) and "A Holly, Jolly Christmas" (Burl Ives). Lee recorded the song, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" in July with a prominent twanging guitar part by Hank Garland. Decca released it as a single that November, but it sold only 5,000 copies, and did not do much better when it was released again in 1959.

In 1960, she recorded her signature song, "I'm Sorry", which hit number one on the Billboard pop chart and was her first gold single. Even though it was not released as a country song, it was the first big hit to use what was to become the new "Nashville Sound" — a string orchestra and legato harmonized background vocals. (Ray Charles used the same sound that year on the huge pop hit, Georgia on My Mind.) "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" got noticed in its third release a few months later, and sales snowballed; the song remains a perennial radio favorite each December and is probably the record with which she is most identified by contemporary audiences.

Lee was popular in the UK very early in her career. She toured the UK in 1959, before she had achieved much pop recognition in the US. Her 1961 rockabilly release "Let's Jump the Broomstick" did not chart in the US, but went to #12 in the UK. She then had two top 10 hits in the UK that were not released as singles in her native country: "Speak To Me Pretty" peaked at number three in early 1962, followed by "Here Comes That Feeling."

Her last top-10 single on the pop charts was 1963's "Losing You," while she continued to have other chart songs such as her 1966 song "Coming On Strong" and "Is It True?" in 1964. The latter was her only hit single recorded in London, England, and was produced by Mickie Most, who at the time was producing hits for The Animals and Herman's Hermits.

During the early 1970s, Lee re-established herself as a country music artist, and earned a string of Top 10 hits on the country charts. Th first of these was 1973's "Nobody Wins," which reached the Top 5 that spring and also became her last Top 100 pop hit, peaking at number 70. The follow-up, the Mark James composition "Sunday Sunrise," reached number six on Billboard magazine's Hot Country Singles chart that October. Other major hits included "Wrong Ideas" and "Big Four Poster Bed" (1974); and "Rock On Baby" and "He's My Rock" (both 1975). After a few years of lesser hits, Lee began another run at the Top 10 with 1979's "Tell Me What It's Like." Two follow-ups also reached the Top 10 in 1980: "The Cowboy and the Dandy" and "Broken Trust" (the latter featuring vocal backing by The Oak Ridge Boys). A 1982 album, The Winning Hand, featuring reissues of a number of Lee's 1960s Monument hits, as well as that of Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, was a surprise hit, reaching the top-ten on the U.S. country albums chart. Her last well-known hit was 1985's "Hallelujah, I Love Her So," a duet with George Jones. Today, she continues to perform and tour as a country singer.

[edit] Life Today Over the ensuing years, Lee has continued to record and perform all around the world, previously cutting records in four different languages. She is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.

In 1992, Lee recorded a duet ("You'll Never Know") with Willy DeVille, on his album Loup Garou.

Chuck Berry wrote a song about Brenda Lee on the album St. Louis to Liverpool. She was also immortalized in the hit Golden Earring song "Radar Love": "Radio's playing some forgotten song / Brenda Lee's 'Coming on Strong'." She was also remembered as a heroine to Burton Cummings on his self-titled 70's album in the song "Dream of a Child," including the closing line, "I love Brenda Lee / Brenda Lee loves me / yeah…"

Although her songs have often centered on lost loves, and although she did lose her father at a young age, her marriage to Ronnie Shacklett in 1963 was a success. He was able to deal with the notoriously rapacious music industry, which had exploited her badly, and is credited with ensuring her long-term financial success. They have two daughters, Jolie and Julie (who was named for Patsy Cline's daughter) and three grandchildren, Taylor, Jordan and Charley.

Celebrating over 50 years as a recording artist, Brenda Lee was given the Jo Meador-Walker Lifetime Achievement award by Source Nashville in September 2006. She is the second recipient of the award, Jo Meador-Walker being the first.

Artist Brenda Lee

Referenced from

Music Style:Rock n Roll



Referenced from

Music Style:Rock n Roll


Artist Recording Company Track number Chart Position      

Referenced from
Wanda Jackson, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, Janis Martin, Eddy Arnold, Don Gibson, Loretta Lynn, Marty Robbins, Elvis Presley, Jo Ann Campbell, George Hamilton IV, Molly Bee, Owen Bradley, Skeeter Davis

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References: The Sound of the City ( The Rise of Rock and Roll ) by Charlie Gillett, A Brief history of Rock n Roll by Nick Johnstone, web links copyright david crowfoot 2009, 2010.