Top 5 Brenda Lee Songs
At risk of spoiling Ken Burns’ Country Music docu-series, viewers hear a lot from Brenda Lee. That might come as a surprise if you only know her as the big-voiced child star or the singer of the ever-present holiday tune “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree." Yet in the history of 20th century popular music, few witnessed and made as much history as the diminutive singer billed as “Little Miss Dynamite.”
Brenda Mae Tarpley was born in Atlanta, Ga., on Dec. 11, 1944. The future Brenda Lee’s family recognized her singing talents by the time she was three, and talent shows and television appearances prepared her for her big break: a chance in 1955 to open for Red Foley. Foley saw dollar signs as Lee sang “Jambalaya,” so he offered her a spot on his popular, Springfield, Mo.-based television program Ozark Jubilee.
Within a year of her Foley encounter, Lee inked her first record deal with Decca and met Music Row pioneer Owen Bradley. Under Bradley’s guidance, Lee recorded her first signature tune, “Dynamite,” for a 1957 release. After that, the Nashville Sound innovator and the Georgia girl pivoted from country music to the pop-rock charts.
As a rock star, Lee cut her 1960 monster hit “I’m Sorry.” Her 47 U.S. chart hits throughout the decade rank only behind fellow country moonlighter Elvis Presley, Buck Owens fans the Beatles and honorary Nashville crooner Ray Charles.
The rock hits only paint half of the picture, however. Lee returned to the country charts with 1973’s No. 5 single “Nobody Wins” and remained a hitmaker into the 1980s.
Once the hits slowed down, Lee embraced her role as one of country music’s most valuable ambassadors. She became a television host for Willie Nelson's Farm Aid, a recurring guest on TNN’s Nashville Now and a regular at charitable events. In 1997, Lee joined the Country Music Hall of Fame; five years later, she became the first woman in both the Country and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame.
To better grasp Lee's role in country and rock history, check out these five selections from her massive back catalog.