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Profile: Brenda Lee


Profile: Brenda Lee

Brenda Lee


Brenda Mae Tarpley, December 11, 1944, Atlanta, GA


Rockabilly, Country-Pop, Pop, Rock and Roll, Country



Contributions to music:

  • Among the rare female rockabilly stars of note
  • Along with Patsy Cline, popularized the Sixties version of "countrypolitan" country-pop crossover music
  • One of rock's finest ballad singers
  • Demonstrated a knack for singing adult songs with a sense of drama that appealed to teenagers
  • Combined sexiness and innocence in a way few stars of the time could
  • A legendary country music artist in her own right
  • The biggest-selling female of the Sixties; has charted in more musical categories than any other female

Early years:

Growing up in Lithonia, GA, Brenda Tarpley's life was largely untouched by strife, although the death of her father at age nine weighed upon her. Her mother remarried, and Brenda -- a child prodigy who'd won a school singing contest at the age of 5 -- was soon appearing on radio and TV shows in the region. But it was while visiting an idol, country singer Red Foley, at an Augusta concert that she caught her first big break, gaining a spot on the ABC series Ozark Jubilee.


Within two months the buzz was sufficient for Decca to offer her a recording contract, and several country hits followed, fine examples of rockabilly all (and this from a 12-year-old girl who stood 4' 9"!). Eventually, she began working with famed Nashville producer Owen Bradley, who -- as he had with Patsy Cline -- steered her towards a slightly more pop sound. "Sweet Nothin's" was her first big pop hit in 1960; for the next few years she and Connie Francis ruled as America's twin sweethearts.

Later years:

Changing tastes, including the British Invasion, forced many country-pop stars to retreat, and Brenda was no exception: by the late Sixties, she was working exclusively in straight country. However, she'd since become a massive star worldwide (selling over 100 million records to this day), and for the past few decades she's maintained a regular touring schedule all over the world. Thanks to her 1958 smash "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree," she also remains in demand as a Christmas artist.

Other facts:

  • Met her husband at a Jackie Wilson concert in 1962
  • Learned Eddy Arnold's "My Daddy is Only a Picture" as her first song
  • Sang in local gospel music quartets as a child
  • In response to incredulity over the power of the little girl's voice, Brenda's amager once created a rumor that she was a 32-year-old midget
  • Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page appears as guitarist on her 1964 single "Is It True?"
  • Has a street named after her in Lithonia, GA
  • Has a variety of rose that officially bears her name


  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2002)
  • Country Music Hall of Fame (1997)
  • Rockabilly Hall of Fame (1999)
  • GRAMMY Hall of Fame (1999)

Songs, Albums, and Charts:

#1 hits:
  • "I'm Sorry" (1960)
  • "I Want To Be Wanted" (1960)

Top 10 hits:
  • "Sweet Nothin's" (1960)
  • "That's All You Gotta Do" (1960)
  • "You Can Depend On Me" (1961)
  • "Fool #1" (1961)
  • "Emotions" (1961)
  • "Dum Dum" (1961)
  • "Everybody Loves Me But You" (1962)
  • "Break It To Me Gently" (1962)
  • "All Alone Am I" (1962)
  • "Losing You" (1963)
  • "I'm Sorry" (1960)
  • "I Want To Be Wanted" (1960)
  • "Nobody Wins" (1973)
  • "Big Four Poster Bed" (1974)
  • "Rock On Baby" (1975)
  • "Tell Me What It's Like" (1979)
  • "Broken Trust" (1980)

Top 10 albums:
  • Brenda Lee (1960)
  • This Is.....Brenda (1961)
  • Merry Christmas from Brenda Lee (1972)
  • Brenda (1973)
  • The Brenda Lee Story - Her Greatest Hits (1973)
  • New Sunrise (1974)
  • Kris, Willie, Dolly & Brenda...the winning hand (1983)
Other important recordings: "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)," " Bigelow 6-200," "One Step At A Time," "Dynamite," "Little Jonah (Rock on Your Steel Guitar)," "Let's Jump the Broomstick," "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree," "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home," "Weep No More My Baby," "If You Love Me (Really Love Me)," "So Deep," "Heart In Hand," "Someday (You'll Want Me To Want You)," "My Coloring Book," "I Wonder," "The Grass Is Greener," "My Whole World Is Falling Down," "Is It True?" "Too Many Rivers," "Coming On Strong," "Johnny One Time"
Covered by: Juice Newton, Kenny Rogers, Wynonna Judd, The Ventures
Appears in the movies: "The Two Little Bears" (1961), "Smokey and the Bandit II" (1980)
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