The Unforgettable Journey of a Music Icon
Brenda Lee, who is now 78 years old, may not be as well-known as some other music stars from the 1960s, but you’ll definitely recognize her song “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” during the holiday season.
When Brenda started her music career, she was just a kid and not even old enough to drive. Despite her small stature (she’s only 4 foot 9), her powerful voice led her to become the most successful female artist of the 1960s.
Born Brenda May Tarpley in 1944, she began her journey in the late 1940s and gained huge popularity in the 1950s. Remarkably, she topped the charts 55 times throughout her career, making her the most successful female recording artist of the 1960s.
At the young age of 12, Brenda became a fan favorite. Tragically, when she was eight, her father, a construction worker, died at work, and Brenda, who changed her last name to Lee, became the main provider for her family.
Despite the challenges, Brenda loved helping her family and felt thrilled when she earned her first $20. She started singing at the age of 3 and was determined to support her family.
Brenda’s breakthrough came in 1956 when she joined country star Red Foley for a show, and her talent captured the hearts of millions. She signed with Decca Records in the same year, and by the age of 13, she released the holiday classic “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree.”
Throughout her career, Brenda had numerous hits, including “Sweet Nuthin’s,” “All Alone Am I,” and “Fool #1.” Despite singing about love and heartbreak, Brenda herself didn’t experience typical teenage romance since her mother didn’t allow her to date. She got married to Ronnie Shacklett at the age of 18, and they’ve been happily married for 60 years.
Life on the road as a young artist had its challenges. Brenda spent her 12th birthday in Las Vegas but couldn’t experience much of the city since she was too young for the casinos. Despite missing out on a normal childhood, Brenda made friends in the music industry, including John Lennon, Elton John, Elvis Presley, and Little Richard.
Brenda, a woman of faith, attributes her success to God and her husband. She retired from performing but remains beloved, especially for her iconic Christmas song. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” continues to be a holiday favorite, even hitting No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 2019, 59 years after its recording. Brenda Lee’s music brings joy to fans, and her legacy lives on.