Brenda Lee, the renowned singer who broke into fame at a young age, was born Brenda Mae Tarpley in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 11, 1944.
Lee started singing when she was a baby. Her family noticed her remarkable voice early on, and at three years old, her sister entered her into a talent show, which she won. The singer continued to perform at baseball games and local halls, but at eight, finding singing gigs became a way to survive.
The singer’s father died tragically in a construction accident. The death left Lee and her mother working hard to find gigs for them to make ends meet. Around this time, the singer met a local DJ who advised her to change her name to Brenda Lee to make it more memorable.
Lee’s career kept growing, and in 1975, she moved to Nashville, where she was introduced to her manager, Dub Allbritten, and producer, Owen Bradley, who eventually became parental figures.
By 1959, Lee started topping the Rock and Roll charts with her song “Sweet Nothings,” followed by “I’m Sorry.” The singer was making good money, but since she was not 21, her money was kept in a trust.
However, this meant that her family did not reap the benefits of her hard work, so in 1960, she petitioned the court to give her money to take her mother and siblings out of the trailer park they lived in. Lee won the petition and bought her mother a house, but the home unfortunately burned down.
When the singer was 18, she fell in love with Ronnie Shacklett, a tall 6’4 man, and married him in 1963 despite her mother’s and managers’ apprehension. The couple welcomed two daughters, Julie and Jolie.
Brenda Lee’s Legacy
Lee is now 79 years old and still goes down in history as one of the most respected singers who topped the charts in the sixties. However, when the “Nobody Wins” singer was at the peak of his fame, other rock’n roll singers like the Beatles and Elvis Presley were on the rise.
Although the singer continuously topped the charts, she was asked how she felt about not getting the same level of respect as the Beatles or Preseley. But to most’s surprise, that was not a question that occupied Lee’s mind.
The performer was grateful for the life that she was living and felt that she had exceeded her small-town girl dreams. Lee never took her achievements for granted, but she admitted that she was never the person who reflected or sat in her feelings.
She was aware of her success and certified record sales, but the meaning behind these milestones did not cross her mind. Although the male singers were topping the music charts, Lee would have crowds of teenage girls around her.
The singer loved every moment of it. She loved how she could become a shoulder for them to cry on and vice versa. But despite the more subtle recognition of Lee’s legacy, the singer has not stopped performing.
Lee’s schedule is still packed. The “Sweet Nothings” singer hosts dinners, gives speeches, and performs on many stages. As she gets older, the singer admitted that she still loved the thrill of being on stage, but now she does enough work to get the creative juices flowing.
While audiences might believe that Lee’s legacy has yet to be given the attention it deserves, iconic singers like Elton John see her as the best singer of all time. John remembered seeing Lee perform as a teenager and reckoned that she was vocally the best rock’n roll singer.
Dolly Parton also said she was the “greatest performer.” The country star also joked that she loved Lee because she might be the only person that she is taller than. The singer is reportedly 4’9 with a shoe size of 2 and a half.
Lee shops in the children’s sections, but Thailand is one country where she finds adult sizes that fit her. So when she visits, she goes with an empty suitcase to fill up with shoes.
Inside Brenda Lee’s Normal Life
Although Lee still gets her lunches at the Cheesecake Factory interrupted for autographs, the singer expressed that she lived a normal life. The mother of two lives in Nashville, where she has stayed for over 60 years.
The many decades in Nashville have made Lee the unofficial mayor, as most residents are likely to have a story about Lee. But in her everyday life, the rock’n’ roll star leads a normal life with her husband, children, and grandchildren.
A typical day for her consists of making lunch for her husband and grandson Charley. The grandparents have their teenage grandson living with them, not to forget their rescue dog, which they call “little girl.” Her daughters also lead private lives out of the limelight.
Her house is described as a home with a lot of “clutter,” like mementos and souvenirs she has collected from her trips around the world. There is also a sketch of John Elton on her piano.
Lee and Ronnie have been together for 60 years, and the singer could not be more proud of the man she married. She praised him for being a good man and added, “I lucked out.” Her husband was also supportive of her career. He had worked as a general contractor, but he told his wife that if she wanted to retire, she was free to do so.
The singer admitted that the assurance she got from her husband allowed her to step down from the traveling that came with being a singer. Now, she’s focused on the more intimate performances and gigs she books. In fact, Lee was reportedly less concerned about her long-standing career and more about her left foot, which she believed was broken. She explained:
“With this darn old big thing I’m wearing, you would think I broke my whole leg.”
While she might not be thinking about her legacy, one of Lee’s songs, released 65 years ago, has improved with time. Her song “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” grows over time and is now topping the 100 Billboard charts. Lee said she did not believe the song would become her “signature song,” but the tune has taken a life of its own.