The Story and the Music of “Little Miss Dynamite” Brenda Lee


Introduction to Brenda Lee

Brenda Lee (birth name Brenda Mae Tarpley) is an American singer who was one of the biggest stars during the early 60s music era.  The petite Lee (at 4’11”) has been tagged as “Little Miss Dynamite” (after her song” Dynamite”) since her heyday, but she has huge talent, having been a prodigy at an early age.  Her versatility in singing in different genres – pop, country and rockabilly – has defined her as a crossover star.  Lee’s career boasts 37 US hit singles during the era, making her one of the most successful female artists of her time, second only to Connie Francis.  Her best known songs are notably:  “Sweet Nothin’s,”  “I’m Sorry” and the now-standard holiday fare “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” Late in her career she has been devoting herself to making much more country music.

Meet Brenda Lee

American rockabilly, pop and country music singer Brenda Lee was born Brenda Mae Tarpley on December 11, 1944 in Atlanta, Georgia. Lee was one of the three children of Annie Grayce and Reuben Lindsey Tarpley. Being raised in poverty, she did not have a permanent home or regular schooling for his father worked in different areas across Atlanta and Augusta. Lee’s family noticed her musical interest when she was a toddler; she would whistle the songs she was hearing on their transistor at home and sing for candies and coins at a candy shop in their town. As she was growing up, she served the Baptist Church every Sunday performing as a solo singer.

Young Lee joined a singing contest and won, earning her a live performance on Starmakers Revue (an Atlanta-based radio show) which was followed by numerous appearances. Her guestings on local radio and televisions shows helped her family to make ends meet. In 1953, the 10-year old Lee shouldered all the responsibilities from her father who died that year. By that point, she became a regular host on a local TV program in Atlanta. 

When she was 11, Lee got one of her biggest early breaks: her appearance on the popular country music-oriented variety program on ABC Ozark Jubilee

Brenda Lee’s s recording journey in the 1950’s to 1960s’s

Billed as “Little Brenda Lee,” she had her first recording on Decca Records in 1956, releasing  the single “Jambalaya.” It was followed by a couple of novelty Christmas songs “I’m Gonna Lasso Santa Claus” and “Christy Christmas.” Lee had her first visit on the Billboard Hot 100 which came in 1957 with “One Step at a Time” peaking at #43. The next single “Dynamite” did not gain any commercial success; however, it led to title her as the “Little Miss Dynamite.”

Things started to click in 1959 when Lee issued the single “Sweet Nothin’s” which registered on both pop and R&B charts at #4 and #12 respectively. The follow-up single “I’m Sorry” gained popularity as Lee’s biggest hit, chart-topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1960 while peaking on the R&B chart at #12. It was also a big hit on the UK chart at #4. In that year alone, Lee scored another Top 10 pop hits with “That’s All You Gotta Do” (#6), “Emotions” (#7), and “I Want to Be Wanted” which was her second #1 hit. Brenda Lee achieved success and fame on an international level by then, that an upstarting band named The Beatles once opened for her in her UK tour during the early 60s.

Lee’s commercial success seemed to hold on up to the mid-1960s, gaining Top 10 pop hits such as “You Can Depend on Me” (#6, 1961), “Dum Dum” (#4, 1961), “Fool #1” (#3, 1961), “Break It to Me Gently” (#4, 1962), “Everybody Loves Me But You” (#6, 1962), “All Alone Am I” (#3, 1962) and “Losing You” (#6, 1963) which was Lee’s last single to enter the Top 10.

Brenda Lee’s career in the 1970’s to recent

Around early 1970’s, Lee went back on recording, tweaking her sound to country music. Most of her singles became country hits but encountered marginal success on the pop chart. Country hits included “Nobody Wins” (#5, 1973), “Big Four Poster Bed” (#4, 1974), “Wrong Ideas” (#6), “He’s My Rock” (#8, 1975), “Rock on Baby” (#6, 1975), and “Tell Me What It’s Like” (#8, 1979).

In 1980, Lee issued “The Cowgirl and the Dandy” that would become her last Top 10 country hit. However, her 1982 album The Winning Hand unexpectedly sold really well that it made to the Top 10 country albums chart. Even though hits dried up for Lee in the 1990’s, she continued to record and tour around the world.

In 2002, an autobiography was published, titled Little Miss Dynamite: The Life and Times of Brenda Lee.

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