Brenda Lee was born Brenda Mae Tarpley in the charity ward of Grady Memorial Hospital, part of the Emory University Hospital complex, in Atlanta, Georgia, the second daughter of Rubin and Grace Tarpley. Her father, a carpenter and semi-professional baseball player was killed in a construction accident in 1953.
In 1962, during a Jackie Wilson concert at the Fairgrounds Coliseum in Nashville, Brenda met her future husband, Ronnie. They were married on April 24, 1963 while Brenda, still in her teens, was at the height of her record chart popularity.
Brenda Lee's marriage had been one case of a show business teaming that has endured ... she and her husband have passed their third decade milestone. They have two daughters, Julie (born in 1964) and Jolie(born in 1969). Both daughters are married.
On the personal side of her fame, Brenda Lee is a tireless supporter and spokeswoman in the organizational levels of Nashville's music community, as well as for the numerous charitable organizations on the local and national levels that Brenda lends not only her name, but her personal energies. She had served on the Country Music Association Board of Directors (8 years) and, is presently on the Board of Governors of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS).
The Kidney Foundation, American Cancer Society, Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy, and The March of Dimes are among the organizations that Brenda had lent not only her time and talents, but more importantly, her heart.
May 21, 2001, will mark Brenda's 45th Anniversary as a recording artist.
New Musical Express Award (UK) - World's #1 Female Vocalist (1960-1965)
Edison Award (Holland). A five time recipient of Holland's equivalent to the Grammy, Brenda has received more Edison's than any other performer.
Aztec Award (Mexico) - Outstanding Foreign Female Artist.
NARM Award (US) - From the National Association of Record Manufacturers. Four time recipient for: Most Promising Female Vocalist (1960); Best Selling Female Vocalist (1962); Best Selling Female Vocalist (1963); Top Female Vocalist/Single Records (1963)
Billboard Magazine Award - Most Programmed Female Vocalist (5 consecutive years).
Cashbox Magazine Award - Most Programmed Female Vocalist (3 consecutive years).
Record Mirror Award (UK) - World's #1 Female Vocalist (4 consecutive years).
Melody Maker Award (UK) - #1 Female Vocalist (1962)
Music Reporter Award (US) - Leading Female Vocalist (1962)
NARAS (Grammy) Nominations (US). Brenda Lee has to date received four Grammy Award nominations from the prestigious National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Nominations include: "I'm Sorry" (1960); "Johnny One Time" (1970); "Tell Me What It's Like" (1980); and "Honky Tonk Angels Medley" with k.d. lang, Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells (1989).
Accolades and Recognitions
Brenda's first guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry came on December 22, 1957, the same night a young performer named Elvis Presley made a rare Opry appearance.
Brenda Lee is credited with more double sided hit singles than any other woman in the history of pop music.
Charted in more categories (pop, rock easy listening, country and rock) than any other female in the history of recorded music.
In retrospect of the entire decade of the 1960s, Brenda is the top charted female act, and fourth overall charted act, with Elvis, The Beatles and Ray Charles completing the top four.
Brenda Lee ranks #9 in "Most Consecutive Top Ten Hits Of All Time," a category shared by both male and female artists.
In 'Newsweek' magazine's 1977 compilation of "Top 20 Artists Of The Past 20 Years," Brenda's accomplishments placed her in the #7 position. 'Newsweek' also credited her as one of the five leading American artists that had best survived the British Invasion of the early '60's.
In 1989, Brenda was nominated for the "Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame"
October 3, 1987 was officially proclaimed "Brenda Lee Day," in her native Lithonia, Georgia.
On September 6, 1984, Brenda was presented the prestigious "Governor's Award," by the National Academy Of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) in Nashville. The occasion, marking the fourth time the award was bestowed by NARAS for lifetime career contributions to the recording industry, was heralded by a glittering award celebration, appropriately titled, "A Tribute To A Legend." It was proclaimed "Brenda Lee Day," by both the Mayor of Nashville and Governor Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
Brenda Lee was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall Of Fame on September 23, 1982, and was presented the "Georgy Award," by her homestate in recognition of a lifetime of accomplishments by the state's native daughter.
Brenda performed a 'Royal Command Performance,' before Queen Elizabeth II of England on November 2, 1964, in London.
In October 1994, Brenda Lee headlined a sell-out concert at the historic 'Royal Albert Hall,' in London -- a performance that marked the crowning jewel of a month long European concert series.
On a whimsical note, a miniature rose was named for Brenda Lee by the American Rose Society in 1990. The 'Brenda Lee' rose is yellow with pink to red edges, depending on the amount of sun it receives. In the words of the Rose Society, it is described as, "A Little Beauty That Is Exceptionally Hearty, Smaller Than Other Miniature Roses, And An All-Round Winner!" Obviously, a perfect tribute to it's namesake.
In 1980 with several of her gold records
For the Record
Brenda Lee's international record sales are in excess of 100 million.
Brenda's biggest selling single to date, "I'm Sorry," has sold in excess if 15 million units worldwide. (photo at right taken in 1959
"Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree," which is annually among the best selling Christmas records, had sold eight million units by Christmas 1994 .. a figure that shows increased sales each year. It was re-recorded by Brenda in 1991 for her Warner Brothers Records Christmas album, "A Brenda Lee Christmas ... In The New Old Fashioned Way."
International Platinum and Gold albums include:
"The Very Best of Brenda Lee" - (Platinum/Gold - UK)
"Little Miss Dynamite" - (Triple Gold Album - UK, Holland and Germany)
"16 Classic Tracks" (Gold Album - UK)
"The Early Years" - Gold Album - UK)
U.S. Platinum and Gold albums include:
"This Is Brenda"
"Sincerely Brenda Lee"
"All Alone Am I"
"Merry Christmas, Brenda Lee"
"10 Golden Years"
"Let Me Sing"
"Brenda, That's All"
"All The Way"
"The Versatile Brenda Lee"
"Johnny One Time"
Gold Record Singles include:
"That's All You Gotta Do"
"I Want To Be Wanted"
"Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree"
"Break It To Me Gently"
"All Alone Am I"
"Coming On Strong"
"Johnny One Time"
"Too Many Rivers"
"Heart In Hand"
"Here Comes That Feelin'"
"The Crying Game"
"Big Four Poster Bed"
"Jingle Bell Rock"
"Tell Me What It's Like"
"Is It True"
"Speak To Me Pretty"
"The Cowgirl And The Dandy"
"One Rainey Night In Tokyo" (Japan Gold Single)
"If You Love Me" (Japan Gold Single)
PHOTO 1: Brenda signs her first recording contract, June 16. 1956. With her are Lou Black,
Harry Silverstein and Red Foley on the "Ozark Jubilee" set.
PHOTO 2: Backstage at the Ryman auditorium in 1957 with another legend, Patsy Cline.
PHOTO 3: Brenda giving her thanks is an appreciative audience bt taking a bow.
PHOTO 4: At eighteen, Brenda scored with her first NBC-T appearance with Bob Hope in a prime
time special that found her singing and doing comedy.
PHOTO 5: Before even reaching her teens, Brenda headlined in Las Vegas at the Flamingo Hotel, 1957.
A History of Career "Firsts"
First Song Learned
A tearful ballad, "My Daddy Is Only A Picture," originally recorded by Eddy Arnold in 1948.
First Public Appearance
At age 5, Brenda represented the Conyers Georgia Grade School in an annual Spring Festival talent contest, conducted among several area elementary schools. She won first prize in the talent contest and was runner-up in the beauty contest.
First Radio Performance
Local popularity led to an offer for Brenda to sing on "Starmakers Revue," a popular Atlanta-based radio show, which featured her as a regular for one year. "Too Young," was her first number sung on the air. Sponsored locally by Borden's Ice Cream, Brenda Lee years later recalled: "It was wonderful experience ... although they didn't pay any money for singing on the show, I got all the free ice cream I could eat."
First TV Show
Radio appearances on "Starmakers Revue," led to a regular performance slot on WAGA-TV in Atlanta, as a regular on their popular show, "TV Ranch." On her debut, Brenda sang "Hey Good Lookin'," and encored with "Too Young."
First Gospel Appearance
Brenda sang in the local church as a young child and at age 5, sang gospel music with the Master Worker's Quartet in Georgia, on a regular basis.
First Professional Paid Job
Appearances on "TV Ranch," lead to her first professional singing engagement - a Shriner's Club Luncheon for which Brenda was paid $20.00.
First Professional Break
In February 1956, Brenda's local celebrity brought her to the attention of country legend, Red Foley, who was performing in Augusta, Georgia with the cast of his popular ABC-TV Show, "Ozark Jubilee." Approached by local DJ "Peanuts Faircloth," Foley and his manager, Dub Allbritten (later to become Brenda's manager), agreed to let Brenda sing one song on the show. Red Foley later recalled; "I still get cold chills thinking about the first time I heard that voice. One foot started patting rhythm as though she was stomping out a prairie fire, but not another muscle in that little body even as much as twitched. And when she did that trick of breaking her voice, it jarred me out of my trance enough to realize I'd forgotten to get off the stage! There I stood ... after 26 years of supposedly learning how to conduct myself in front of an audience, with my mouth open two miles wide and a glassy stare in my eyes."
Brenda performed "Jambalaya," then another tune, and two more encores. She left the stage with the crowd shouting for more. "The way I stood back and enjoyed watching her work, I felt guilty for not going out to the box office and buying a ticket," Red Foley remembered.
First National TV Show
Her meeting with Red Foley in Augusta, led to Brenda being offered a guest spot on his highly rated, "Ozark Jubilee," which originated weekly from Springfield, Missouri, for national broadcast on ABC-TV.
On Saturday, March 31, 1956, Brenda made her debut appearance, singing "Jambalaya," on the 'Junior Jubilee,' portion of the show which spotlighted young talent. As an immediate response, "Ozark Jubilee's" production office received three times the show's usual fan mail, with viewers requesting to see Brenda again on the show.
Noted New York columnist, Jack O'Brien, of the 'Journal American,' opened his newspaper entertainment feature by noting: "I didn't catch the name of the 9 year old singer on last night's "Ozark Jubilee," but she belts a song like a star!"
Brenda's guesting on "Jubilee," led to early booking on "The Perry Como Show," and other national variety shows, highly popular in the late '50's.
Brenda and her family moved from their native Georgia to Springfield, Missouri, where she became a regular performer on "Ozark Jubilee," from 1956-1959.
First Top Ten Song
Owen Bradley became Brenda's record producer for Decca in May 1958. On August 13, 1959, Brenda recorded "Sweet Nothin's" with Bradley in Nashville. The song was released in September, and peaked at #4 in the 'Billboard' charts in April 1960. As importantly in Brenda's career retrospect, "Sweet Nothin's," became the first of many Top 10 hits for Brenda - in the U.S. and internationally. It marked her first chart success in the U.K. and German markets.
First #1 Song / First Gold Record
On March 28, 1959, Brenda recorded, "I'm Sorry." Released in May of 1960, the song stayed at the #1 spot on the charts throughout the summer, and stayed in the Top 100 charts for over six months! It produced Brenda Lee's first Gold Record in the U.S. and by the end of 1960, the success of "I'm Sorry," had made Brenda Lee a star of international proportions.
PHOTO 1: 1957 Photo
PHOTO 2: On stage, 1985
PHOTO 3: During a sell-out concert at Royal Albert Hall in London in '94,
Brenda was visited by Britain's Princess Margaret
PHOTO 4: Brenda at Rehearsals for her 1960 Premiere Performance at the Olympia Theatre, Paris
An International Star
The first glimmer of the brightness that Brenda Lee would achieve internationally, came with the dawn of 1959 ...
On February 18, 1959, Brenda, at the tender age of 15, and with the floodgate-breaking success of "I'm Sorry," still a year in the future, was scheduled to perform in concert in Paris, France at the famed Olympia Music Hall, with international superstar Gilbert Becaud. Response to the diminutive American singer, literally rocked the normally sophisticated and blase' French audiences: Originally scheduled to perform for three weeks, Brenda Lee was held-over an additional five weeks, with tickets to her show commanding premium prices along the Champs Elysees. In a flurry of plaudits, the respected Paris newspaper, 'Le Figaro,' compared Brenda favorably to the legendary Judy Garland.
Response to the Paris engagement, ed to concert dates in Germany, Italy and England, followed closely on Brenda's now heavily booked agenda, by a tour of South America ... a tour which led to virtual riots of teenage fans hoping to catch a glimpse of their American idol. In Brazil, Brenda was given the greatest reception ever accorded an American entertainer, as she made a month long tour with 21 concert performances. The tour netted fifty-one front page newspaper stories, and feature stories in nine top South American magazines. Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitshek de Oliveria called Brenda Lee, "The Best Goodwill Ambassador the U.S. ever had."
With stunning successes in France and South America, Brenda Lee music was coming to the attention of British audiences, as well. Jack Good's 'Oh Boy!' TV show introduced Brenda's music to England, It was to be the beginning of an enduring love affair between artist and audience that continues to this day.
Brenda Lee returned to America "an international star."
On November 30, 1961, Brenda recorded her first records sung in German ("Anybody But Me" and "Fool #1") and French ("Fool #1") in Nashville. In February1963, she recorded four songs in German for her international market. Recording took place in West Germany with Bert Kaempfert producing. Brenda recorded six more songs in German including, "Oh My Boy," "Wiederschin Ist Wunderschom," and "Ich Will Immer Auf Dich Warten," the latter of which became her highest charted record in Germany, reaching into the charts at the end of 1964.
In September of 1964, Brenda recorded "Is It True," and "What'd I Say," in England with British producer Mickie Most at the control board. "Is It True," was released in England, and later in the U.S. and became a major hit, with subsequent gold record achievement. "What'd I Say," became a tremendous hit throughout Europe, but was never released to the U.S. record market.
With Europe, South America and the United States all solidly in her "win" column, Brenda Lee launched a frontal attack on Japan - a beachfront landing that would prove to be the first of many return tours of Japan and the Far East that have continued well into the '90s. In advance of her concert premiere with Japanese audiences, Brenda in February of 1965, recorded "One Rainy Night In Tokyo," cut in Nashville and sung in both English and Japanese. The song would not only introduce America's celebrated "Miss Dynamite," to Japanese audiences, it would go on to become one of Brenda's many gold records, and a standard in 'The Land of the Rising Sun.'
While Brenda Lee's popularity has endured internationally since that first glimmer of success in 1959, no where has the torch of her music burned brighter on international shores than in Britain and Japan.
Brenda's albums and singles continue to mature into gold and platinum status, nurtured by her frequent concert performances that have taken her, thus far, to 52 foreign nations.
Brenda Lee's celebrated marriage of legendary career stats, to cutting edge presence in the music of the past has given her a unique position in the entertainment industry.
Rarely has a performer grown from childhood to maturity with the kind of sweeping momentum that has propelled this tiny fireball into a fourth decade of making music.
Brenda Lee was literally destined to sing her way out of an impoverished childhood and into the hearts of - first America - and then the world. From the first inkling, it was obvious that here was a rare talent to be reckoned with. Her distinctive throaty style and rich vocal presence were gifts that Brenda unwrapped at a remarkably early age. By six she was astounding listeners with a maturity of sound and interpretation of lyrics usually reserved for grown women who had gathered both time and experience.
By the advent of the '60's, Brenda Lee was the darling of her peers - a generation of teenagers who cut their rock 'n roll baby teeth on the young singer who music critics and audiences alike had literally fallen in love with. Before she reached twenty, Brenda Lee had recorded a phenomenal 256 sides - a musical odyssey that even at this early stage included classic million sellers such as "I'm Sorry," "All Alone Am I," "Fool Number 1," "Emotions," "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree," and "That's All You Gotta Do." - to mention only the literal tip of Brenda's career signature songs.
But what perhaps set her most apart from the other girl singers of her era was the onstage dynamics of her live performances. Here was a young talent that not only possessed undoubtedly one of the most unique female voices in the history of recorded music, but she also had the uncanny ability to hold an audience spellbound in one diminutive palm. Many reviewers compared her to Elvis Presley in her onstage dynamics - a comparison that found Brenda being dubbed "Miss Dynamite," - an association that endures to this day. Two things are certain: Brenda Lee could gain control of any stage she walked on, and she could read her audience with laser accuracy aimed directly at the crowd's heart.
For Brenda Lee, the world proved literally to be her stage. In becoming one of America's most in-demand musical exports of the 60's, audiences in some 52 foreign nations have shouted their approval of her in a multitude of languages. Brenda continues to be a well-travelled globe trotter whose foreign tours bring her annually in front of far distance fans with well-worn and well-loved collections of Brenda Lee music.
Brenda's survival instincts in the technological musical whirlwind of the '90's are well-honed and well in line with her "get down to basics approach" to life in general and her career in particular.
She simply continues to do what she long ago learned she could do best - sing. In doing so, Brenda not only maintains a vast army of fans, but literally adds scores of new fans annually.
Like Brenda herself, her fans span time and musical boundaries. They encompass a generation of "baby boomers." who, like herself, grew up with rock 'n roll. Surprisingly perhaps, they also include her parents generation who were charmed with Brenda as a child performer and the opportunity that had of watching her grow up literally before their eyes. And perhaps the biggest surprise of all on the wide demographic scale of Brenda Lee's musical following, are the young people who populate her concerts and comb classic record bins to reassemble a career in sight and sound that they are too young to have watched unfold.
A continuing stream of Brenda's musical releases in the '90's have produced platinum CD's, not only on America shores, but in far-flung music capitals from London to Tokyo.
Brenda herself is anything but "retro" in her musical tastes -- both in what she enjoys performing, and what she enjoys listening to. Her natural instincts in music give her a broad range of artists and musical formats to draw energy from as a performer. She is a tremendous supporter of young talent and as Brenda herself so aptly paints her self-portrait: "I'm the music business biggest fan! I'm always fascinated to see where music is taking us next, and I'm very humbled to be told that my influence has been felt by younger artists whose music I admire."
"The Brenda Lee Story" is far from approaching it's final chapter. Each time she steps in front of a microphone, somewhere in the world today, the story is just beginning for a new audience of listeners.
Phone: (615) 256-3054
FAX: (615) 256-2499
Brenda Lee Productions, Inc
P.O. Box 101188
Nashville, Tennessee 37210-1188
Phone: (615) 256-3054
FAX: (615) 256-2499