Brenda Lee may not be a household name like some of the other music icons from the 1960s, but her songs have had an everlasting impact. When you think of Christmas, you can’t help but hum along to her catchy tune, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

Lee, now 78 years old, first burst onto the music scene when she was just a young girl. Despite her petite stature at only 4 foot 9, her powerful vocals propelled her to unprecedented international popularity, making her the most successful female artist of the 1960s.

Born Brenda May Tarpley in 1944, she began her musical journey in the late 1940s and rose to stardom in the 1950s. Amazingly, she topped the charts 55 times during her career, earning her the title of the most successful female recording artist of the 1960s. Her story is one of talent, determination, and resilience.

At the tender age of eight, tragedy struck when Lee’s father, a construction worker, was killed on the job. Suddenly, young Brenda became the primary provider for her family, consisting of her younger brother, older sister, and mother, who worked in a cotton mill.

Taking care of her loved ones became more than just a duty for Brenda. She was thrilled when she made her first $20 because it meant she could contribute to her family’s well-being. Even at such a young age, she understood the importance of helping out and providing for those she loved.

Described as a “pioneer of early rock and roll” by the Georgia Encyclopedia, Brenda Lee achieved remarkable international fame in the 1960s. Despite her success, she remains incredibly humble and always credits the people who supported her along the way.

When asked about being a legend, Brenda humbly responds, “I don’t think of myself that way! 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 worked tirelessly to help me achieve my dreams. So, if I’m a legend, then they’re legends too.”

Her musical journey began in 1956 when she joined country star Red Foley for a show at the Bell Auditorium near her hometown of Augusta. She captivated millions of viewers on Foley’s show, Ozark Jubilee, with her incredible talent that far surpassed her young age.

The following year, Lee signed with Decca Records and moved to Nashville, Tennessee. Blending country with rhythm and blues, she recorded early rockabilly classics that showcased her unique vocals, such as “BIGELOW 6-200,” “Little Jonah,” and “Let’s Jump the Broomstick.”

Despite the spotlight and performing in front of large crowds, Lee never felt nervous. She had been singing in front of people since she was three years old and the stage always felt like home to her. Performing was something she loved and felt comfortable with from an early age.

In 1957, Brenda earned the fitting nickname “Little Miss Dynamite” for her powerhouse recording of the song “Dynamite.” And just a year later, at the age of 13, she released the timeless holiday hit “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” which continues to be a beloved Christmas standard to this day.

Throughout the following years, Lee continued to produce hits like “Sweet Nuthin’s,” “All Alone Am I,” and “Fool #1.” Her songs often depicted experiences beyond her young years, painting images of love and heartbreak, despite her limited personal experience. Her mother didn’t allow her to date, and she graduated high school without fully understanding the complexities of young love.

But at the age of 16, Brenda sang about love’s cruelty in “I’m Sorry” and expressed her desire for a true kiss in “I Want to be Wanted.” Both songs became back-to-back hits, capturing the hearts of fans worldwide while she was still in school. Shortly after turning 18, she met Ronnie Shacklett, the man she has been happily married to for 60 years.

Life on the road was not always easy for the young Brenda Lee. She celebrated her 12th birthday in Las Vegas, feeling a sense of isolation during her time there. As a child, she wasn’t even allowed to venture into the casinos, missing out on the usual Vegas experience. However, the stage became her sanctuary, where she found joy and fulfillment.

One of the unexpected perks of life on tour was the friendships she made along the way. She crossed paths with legends like John Lennon, whom she described as extremely intelligent and gentle. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that The Beatles were fans of her music.

Brenda Lee’s circle of friends also included Elton John, who was stunned by her unique talent. She even danced with the iconic Elvis Presley and cherished a long-lasting friendship with Little Richard, whom she admired for his music and strong faith. Both artists received the Distinguished Artist award at the Governor’s Arts Awards in 2019, making it Little Richard’s final public appearance before his passing.

Faith has always played a significant role in Brenda’s life. She credits her success, both personally and professionally, to God and the support of her husband. She feels blessed to have found a partner with integrity, honesty, and unwavering love for her. It’s a testament to the power of faith and the guidance she believes she received from a higher power.

In addition to her musical contributions, Brenda Lee remains involved in Sunday Mornin’ Country, a faith-based event in collaboration with CMA Fest that has been running for over 40 years. She continues to inspire and serve as a role model for young stars like Taylor Swift, who penned a highly personal essay on Brenda’s impact titled “Rare Peer” in the book “Women Walk the Line, How The Women In Country Music Changed Our Lives”.

Now retired from performing, Brenda Lee’s music continues to be cherished by fans around the world. Her iconic holiday hit, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” has become an enduring symbol of the holiday season, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 2019, 59 years after its release. Brenda describes the experience as surreal, hearing her own voice while shopping in a department store.

Decades later, Brenda Lee’s music still brings joy and happiness to listeners. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is a timeless favorite that fills us with nostalgia and anticipation for the holiday season. What are your favorite memories of Brenda Lee? Share your experiences and let us celebrate the remarkable journey of this musical legend.