Lee, Brenda (originally, Tarpley, Brenda May) aka “Little Miss Dyn-a-mite”)

views updated

Lee, Brenda (originally, Tarpley, Brenda May) aka “Little Miss Dyn-a-mite”)

Lee, Brenda (originally, Tarpley, Brenda May) aka “Little Miss Dyn-a-mite”), one of the most popular female vocalists of the late 1950s and early 1960s in pop-music, who then became a country star in the 1970s; b. Lithonia, Ga., Dec. 11, 1944. Brenda Lee began singing at the age of four, winning an Atlanta television station’s children’s talent contest at age six. She became a regular on the local radio show Starmak-er’s Revue at seven and performed on the local television show TV Ranch from 1951 to 1954. Introduced to country music veteran Red Foley in 1955, she later appeared on his television show Ozark Jubilee (later Country Music Jubilee and Jubilee U.S.A.) and toured with his road show. Signed to Decca Records in 1956, Lee initially recorded rockabilly, scoring her first moderate pop hit in early 1957 with “One Step at a Time” followed by “Dynamite.” Debuting in Las Vegas in late 1956, she soon became known as “Little Miss Dynamite” for her powerful voice and diminutive stature.

Brenda Lee scored her first smash pop hit in 1960 with the seductive “Sweet Nothin’s.” That song and the top hit “I’m Sorry” were written by rockabilly artist Ronnie Self. The flip side of “I’m Sorry,” the rollicking “That’s All You Gotta Do” (written by Jerry Reed), also became a smash hit. Her two 1960 albums became best-sellers as her success continued with the top hit ballad “I Want to Be Wanted,” the Christmas classic “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree,” and the smashes “Emotions,” “You Can Depend on Me,” “Dum Dum” (co-written by Jackie DeShannon and Eddie Cochran girlfriend Sharon Sheeley), and “Fool #1.” In 1962 Lee began concentrating on nightclub appearances, rather than concerts, and smash hits continued through 1963 with “Break It to Me Gently,” “Everybody Loves Me but You” (also written by Ronnie Self), “All Alone Am I,” and “Losing You.” Subsequent major hits through 1966 included “My Whole World Is Falling Down,” “As Usual,” “Is It True,” “Too Many Rivers,” and “Coming on Strong.”

For Brenda Lee, the 1969 moderate pop hit “Johnny One Time” marked her re-entry into the country field. She seldom performed during the 1970s, and by 1973 Decca had been absorbed by MCA Records, for whom, through 1975, she scored country smashes with Kris Kristofferson’s “Nobody Wins,” “Sunday Sunrise,” “Wrong Ideas,” “Big Four Poster Bed,” “Rock on Baby,” and “He’s My Rock.” She managed country near-smashes with “Tell Me What It’s Like,” “The Cowgirl and the Dandy” and “Broken Trust” in 1979-80 and helped record The Winning Hand with Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and Kris Kristofferson in 1983. Her last major country hit came in late 1984 with “Hallelujah, I Love Her So,” in duet with George Jones. Re-established on the Nev. casino circuit in the 1980s, Brenda Lee joined Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells for “Honky Tonk Angels’ Medley” from k.d. lang’s Shadowland album and moved to Warner Bros. Records for Brenda Lee.


brenda lee:Grandma, What Great Songs You Sang (1959); Brenda Lee (1960); This Is … Brenda Lee (1960); Emotions (1961); All the Way (1961); Sincerely (1962); That’s All, Brenda (1962); All Alone Am I (1963); Let Me Sing (1963); By Request (1964); Merry Christmas from Brenda Lee (1964); Top Teen Hits (1965); Versatile (1965); Too Many Rivers (1965); Bye Bye, Blues (1966); Ten Golden Years (1966); Coming on Strong (1966); Reflections in Blue (1967); Here’s Brenda Lee (1967); Johnny One Time (1969); Memphis Portrait (1970); Let It Be Me (1970); Brenda (1973); The Brenda Lee Story (1973); New Sunrise (1974); Now (1975); Sincerely, Brenda Lee (1975); The L. A. Sessions (1976); Even Better (1980); Take Me Back (1980); Only When I Laugh (1981); Greatest Country Hits (1982); Feels So Right (1985); Brenda Lee (1991); A Brenda Lee Christmas (1991); Greatest Hits Live (1992). brenda lee and pete fountain:For the First Time (1968). brenda lee, kris kristofferson, willie nelson, and dolly parton:The Winning Hand (1983).


S. VanHecke, “B. L.: Little Miss Dynamite.” Goldmine (March 15, 1996).

—Brock Helander