Brenda Lee is one of the greatest vocal talents of all time. Her track record as a cross-over artist is remarkable. Known as “Little Miss Dynamite,’ she has sold more than 100 million records worldwide and remains a very respected and cherished international star.
“I never thought that I would sell a million records, much less 100 million. I’m very grateful for the success that I’ve had,” Lee said, in her public relations biography.
Born in Lithonia, Ga., Lee was singing by the age of three. Within four years, she landed a regular spot on the Atlanta radio show Starmaker’s Review. Her exposure there led to several appearances on WAGA-TV’s program TV Ranch. In 1953, her father was killed in a construction accident, leaving her mother to support four children.
Three years later, she was discovered by Red Foley. Soon, Lee and her family relocated to Springfield, Mo., where she began a three-year stint on Foley’s popular ABC-TV show, Ozark Jubilee.
“I owe Red Foley a debt that I could never re-pay,” Lee said. “He believed in undiscovered, young talent like myself. A lot of performers have become household names thanks to him. Overall, I really feel that he has gone unrecognized by the music world.”
In the summer of 1956, Lee was signed to a recording contract with Decca Records. Considering she wasn’t even 12 years-old at the time, this was a ground-breaking feat. With Owen Bradley as her producer, she quickly scored with such tunes as “Sweet Nothin’s,” “I Want to Be Wanted,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “I’m Sorry,” which stayed on the pop charts for an amazing six months.
“I don’t think my career would have happened with anybody else but Owen,” Lee said. “There was a chemistry, and there was his early belief that I had something worth nurturing. No matter who he cut, Owen believed in them. Most of all, he cared.”
She kicked off the 1960’s by touring the United Kingdom. On the tour, the Beatles served as her opening act. Between 1961 and 1963, Lee had an astonishing 25 chart hits. She achieved superstar status throughout the decade with such standouts as “You Can Depend on Me,” “Break It to Me Gently,” “Too Many Rivers” and “Johnny One Time.”
Lee’s accomplishments was impressive compared to any standards but especially for a female during that era. In 2002, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“I feel like I was part of that foundation that was laid when rock ‘n’ roll first came into being,” she said. “I was one of the few women there at the time, and it’s nice to be recognized.”
Lee’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame made history as she became the first female to be in both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997.
“Back then, some people said, ‘Why are you going into the Country Music Hall of Fame when other people who are strictly country aren’t in yet?’,” Lee recalled. “I was just as much in amazement as they were, and I didn’t have an answer for that. But then again, when I look back on my body of work in country music, I had a really good career in the country field.”
As for her country career, the bulk of Lee’s success came throughout the 1970’s and the early 1980’s. During that period, her country hits include “Nobody Wins,” “Big Four Poster Bed” and “Tell Me What It’s Like.”
Although she stands less than five feet tall, Lee is a giant in her field. She still regularly performs, entertaining sell-out crowds and displaying why she is one of grandest ladies in music history.
Beebe native Charles Haymes is a member of both the Country Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org