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

Brenda Lee’s name might not be as well-known as some of the other music icons from the 1960s, but when you think about Christmas, you’ll recall her song and begin humming its upbeat melody, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

As the most famous female musician of the 1960s, Lee, now 78, achieved “unprecedented international popularity” despite not being old enough to drive when she first entered the stage.

When she was just 12 years old, Lee, whose voice belied her 4-foot-9 frame, became a fan favorite.

Brenda May Tarpley, born in 1944, got her start in the late 1940s, became huge in the 1950s, and over her career–that started before she left elementary school–she topped the charts 55 times, earning the title as the most successful female recording artist of the 1960s.

But, an incredibly humble human, Lee credits those who helped her achieve her dreams. When Christianity Today asked what she thinks about being a legend, Lee said “I don’t think of myself that way!” She continued, “I’m just a girl who’s been really blessed to be doing what I’m doing, and there’s a lot of people who’ve sweated a lot of tears and put a lot of life’s work into me to be able to have my dream. So, if I’m a legend, then they’re legends, too.”

In 1956, the young girl joined country star Red Foley for a show at the Bell Auditorium near her home in Augusta, and she belted out “Jambalaya,” by Hank Williams.

The spunky 12-year-old, whose skill was developed much above her age, was subsequently signed to appear on Foley’s Ozark Jubilee, a country music program, where millions of people fell in love with her.

The following year, Lee relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, where she recorded early rockabilly hits including “BIGELOW 6-200,” “Little Jonah,” and “Let’s Jump the Broomstick.” In the same year that she signed with Decca Records, Lee also moved to Nashville.

When asked if she ever felt anxious playing in front of large crowds as a little child, she replied, “No, not really. I’ve never been warned to be anxious. I had been performing in front of people since I was three years old, so the stage had always made me feel at home. As a result, I felt extremely comfortable there.






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