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Biography

  • Born

    11 December 1944 (age 79)

  • Born In

    Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia, United States

Brenda Mae Tarpley (born December 11, 1944), known professionally as Brenda Lee is an American country-pop singer who was popular during the 1950s and 1960s. She was given the nickname Little Miss Dynamite after recording Dynamite in 1957, and in the 1960s she had more charted hits than any other woman. Her father was an excellent left-handed pitcher in the Army, and her mother had a Cherokee great-grandparent. She first attracted attention performing in country music venues and her first single, 1957’s “One Step at a Time,” was a country hit.

Lee was a musical prodigy and by the time she was two she would hear songs on the radio once and be able to whistle the complete tune. She was five years old when she started to gain wider attention when she won a local singing contest sponsored by the elementary schools. At age 11, she was offered a recording contract with Decca Records and released the song “Dynamite,” leading to her lifelong nickname, “Little Miss Dynamite.”

Lee was popular in the UK very early in her career, and her 1961 rockabilly release “Let’s Jump the Broomstick” did not chart in the US, but went to #12 in the UK. Her biggest hits during this time include a rockabilly version of the country classic “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” “Sweet Nothin’s,” “I Want to Be Wanted,” “All Alone Am I,” and “Fool #1.”

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. 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.

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. Her biggest selling track of her career is, oddly enough, a Christmas song: “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” It was released in 1958, but it sold only 5,000 copies. However, it eventually sold over five million copies and remains a perennial radio favorite each December. In December 2023, Lee became the oldest artist to ever top the Hot 100, when "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" topped the chart 65 years after its release.

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, she recorded a duet with Willy DeVille; Chuck Berry also wrote a song about her. Lee has been married to Ronnie Shacklett since 1963, and they have two daughters and three grandchildren. She is the second recipient of the Jo Meador-Walker Lifetime Achievement award.

Throughout her career, Brenda Lee has released 41 studio albums, 12 compilation albums, and over 100 singles. She has had numerous top twenty hits on the Billboard Hot 100, Country, and AC charts in the US, UK, and Canada.

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