Weighing only four pounds and eleven ounces at birth, who would have thought that Brenda Lee would grow up as Little Miss Dynamite when her musical career booms in her youth.
Because of the early demise of her father, Lee, still at the tender age of ten, automatically became her family’s hope. She sung in various events and performed on TV shows and local radio stations. Soon, she crossed paths with Red Foley who was enamored by her voice. Foley had her sing Hank William’s Jambalaya on stage which Lee delivered with poise and confidence. The audience loved her performance and had her sing three more songs that night.
At age 11, Lee’s recording career was sealed under Decca Records on July 30, 1956. Her first recordings were on rockabilly songs including “BIGELOW 6-200,” “Dynamite,” and “Little Jonah.” “Dynamite”earned her the affectionate title, Little Miss Dynamite due to her explosive delivery in singing.
1960 Portrait of Brenda Lee // billboard.com
Making it Huge in Pop, Country, and Rockabilly
As a child prodigy at age 13, Brenda Lee recorded Christmas tunes. The most notable and still a yearly favorite is “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” It initially did not do well in sales, but throughout the years, people are warmed up by this lighthearted tune. Her other Christmas tunes also did well on billboard’s charts including “Jingle Bell Rock”, “This Time of the Year”, and “Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day.”
Though Lee’s an obvious star for Country music with her first hit,”One Step at Time” (1957), Decca led her to do pop and rockabilly. It wasn’t a bad deal for Lee because she managed to score some hits like “I’m Sorry” (Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit in 1960), “Losing You” (1963), “Is It True? (1964) and “Coming On Strong” (1966).
She also recorded her rockabilly versions for Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” “Sweet Nothin’s,” “I’m Sorry,” “I Want to Be Wanted,” “All Alone Am I,” and “Fool #1.”
Tours in England helped Lee gain more recognition with her “Let’s Jump the Broomstick” (1961) which charted on #12. Two more of her songs were in Top 10 in the UK: “Speak To Me Pretty” (1962) and “Here Comes That Feeling.”
After a decade of doing pop and rock, Lee returned to her country music roots. Among her successful recordings that entered the Top 10 were:
“Nobody Wins” (1973), “Sunday Sunrise” (1973)
“Wrong Ideas” (1974)
“Big Four Poster Bed” (1974)
“Rock On Baby” and “He’s My Rock” (1975)
“Tell Me What It’s Like” (1979)
“The Cowboy and the Dandy” (1980)
“Broken Trust” (w/ the Oak Ridge Boys, 1980)
“Hallelujah, I Love Her So” (1985)
“You’ll Never Know” (1990)
As for albums, the most remarkable was her collaboration with Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson
for “The Winning Hand.” Released in 1983, the album featured all the past hits of the said country legends. It entered the top-ten on the U.S. country albums chart.
Other notable albums:
The Show For Christmas Seals with Tennessee Ernie Ford (1969),
Little Miss Dynamite, UK; Britain-only compilation (1980),
The Brenda Lee Story: Her Greatest Hits (1973)
Gospel Duets with Treasured Friends feat. Vince Gill, Dolly Parton, Ronnie Dunn, George Jones, Alison Krauss etc.
Other Huge Achievements by Our Little Miss Dynamite
– presented with the Jo Meador-Walker Lifetime Achievement award by Source Nashville in September 2006
– also a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame
– more awards from The Georgia Music Hall of Fame and The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences
Brenda Lee’s Personal Life
Brenda Lee was eighteen years old when she married Ronnie Shacklett in 1963 much to the chagrin of her family and management. Despite the objections, their union worked harmoniously and were soon blessed with two daughters, Julie and Jolie, and three grandchildren named Taylor, Jordan, and Charley. Also, Lee’s marriage with Shacklett came as another blessing for her. Shacklett managed to protect Lee from further exploitation and the possible ripoff of her money by unscrupulous music managers.
In 1999, Lee had to undergo surgery to remove the cyst in her vocal chords. Consequently, she took time off for rest and complete recovery.
Trivia: Though still a living legend, Brenda Lee has been immortalized in songs like “Radar Love,” “Dream of a Child” and the song by Chuckle Berry in St. Louis to Liverpool album.