‘Little Miss Dynamite’ blew up the charts when she was only 12: Brenda Lee Story

Brenda Lee might not be as famous as some other singers from the 1960s, but you definitely know her song when Christmas comes around. Her catchy tune, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” is a holiday favorite.

When Brenda was just starting out in music, she was too young to even drive a car. But her strong singing voice made her incredibly popular all over the world during the 1960s.

Despite being small, Brenda, who stands at just 4 feet 9 inches tall, became a big hit with fans when she was only 12 years old.

Born Brenda May Tarpley in 1944, she began her music career in the late 1940s and became really famous in the 1950s. Even before finishing elementary school, Brenda had already topped the music charts an amazing 55 times, making her the most successful female singer of the 1960s.

When Brenda was just eight years old, her father, who worked in construction, died in a work accident. Brenda, who then changed her last name to Lee, became the main breadwinner for her family at a young age.

Taking care of her younger brother, older sister, and mom, who worked in a cotton mill, wasn’t something Brenda Lee saw as a chore. She wanted to help her family. When she earned her first $20, she was excited because it meant she could contribute to their household. Even at a young age, Brenda understood how much it meant to have that extra money to buy food and help out.

Born in Atlanta, Brenda became really famous in the 1960s, known as a pioneer of early rock and roll. But she doesn’t see herself as a big deal. When asked if she thinks of herself as a legend, she humbly says no. Brenda believes she’s just been lucky to do what she loves, and she gives credit to all the people who supported her along the way. She believes they’re the real legends.

In 1956, Brenda got her big break when she performed with country star Red Foley at a show near her hometown of Augusta. She sang “Jambalaya” by Hank Williams and wowed the audience.

After impressing audiences on Red Foley’s Ozark Jubilee show, Brenda Lee got signed by Decca Records when she was just 12. She moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and started blending country music with rhythm and blues, creating catchy tunes like “BIGELOW 6-200,” “Little Jonah,” and “Let’s Jump the Broomstick.”

Even though she was so young, Brenda wasn’t nervous performing in front of big crowds. She said being on stage felt like being at home because she’d been singing in front of people since she was 3 years old.

In 1957, Brenda earned the nickname “Little Miss Dynamite” for her powerful recording of the song “Dynamite.” Then, at just 13, she released the holiday classic “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree,” which became a favorite for generations.

Brenda continued to have hits like “Sweet Nuthin’s,” “All Alone Am I,” and “Fool #1.” But despite her songs about love and heartbreak, she didn’t have much dating experience herself. Her mom didn’t allow her to date, so she graduated high school without really knowing about young love firsthand.

When Brenda Lee was just 16, she sang about love and heartbreak in songs like “I’m Sorry” and “I Want to be Wanted.” These songs became big hits while she was still in school.

At 18, Brenda met Ronnie Shacklett, and they’ve been happily married for 60 years.

Life on the road wasn’t easy for Brenda when she was young. She spent her 12th birthday in Las Vegas, but she couldn’t even go into the casino because she was too young. She felt lonely sometimes because there wasn’t much for a kid to do in places like Vegas. But being on stage was where Brenda felt happiest.

Even though she missed being with her friends back home, Brenda made new friends on the road. She became friends with John Lennon from The Beatles when they opened for her at a show in Germany in 1962. She remembers him as a smart and funny person, and she was amazed to find out that The Beatles were fans of her music.

Brenda Lee has some famous friends in her circle, like Elton John, who was amazed when he first heard her sing. She’s also danced with Elvis Presley and been pals with Little Richard since the 1960s.

In 2019, both Brenda and Little Richard were honored with Distinguished Artist awards at the Governor’s Arts Awards. Sadly, it was Little Richard’s last public appearance before he passed away at 87 in May 2020.

Brenda wrote a touching tribute to her friend Little Richard, saying she’d been dancing to his music for ages and that his music always made her feel happy. She believes he’s in heaven because he was such a good person.

Brenda credits a lot of her success, both in her personal life and career, to her husband, whom she married in 1962. She believes God played a big part in bringing them together and in guiding her life.

Brenda Lee is a big part of Sunday Mornin’ Country, a special event with CMA Fest that’s been happening for 40 years and is all about faith.

She’s also someone many young stars look up to, like Taylor Swift. Taylor wrote a personal essay about Brenda Lee in a book called “Women Walk the Line, How The Women In Country Music Changed Our Lives.” Taylor’s essay is called “Rare Peer.”

Even though Brenda has retired from performing, people still love her, especially at Christmas when her song “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” plays everywhere. It’s been a holiday favorite for 65 years!

In 2019, the song made it to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, almost 60 years after it was first recorded. Brenda said it feels surreal to hear her own song playing in a store while she’s shopping. She thinks it’s a wonderful gift.

It’s incredible that decades later, Brenda Lee has provided fans with such happy music! “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is still a favorite and makes me wish for the holidays! What are your favorite memories of Lee?

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