Breaking Trust Quotes Biography
Brenda Lee — Her Life And Career
Brenda was born Brenda Mae Tarpley on December 11, 1944 in the charity ward of Grady Memorial Hospital (part of Emory University Hospital complex) in Atlanta, Georgia. Her mother, Grayce Yarbrough Tarpley Rainwater, today resides in Lithonia, Georgia. Her father, Ruben Lindsey Tarpley, was a carpenter and semi-professional baseball player. He was killed in a construction accident in May 1953. Brenda has two sisters and a brother. Her sisters Linda (born in 1942) and Robyn (born in 1955) and her brother Randall (born in 1949) still live in Georgia.
Brenda attended several grade schools, mostly in Georgia. She attended Maplewood High School in Nashville, Tennessee and graduated from Hollywood Professional School in California on June 12, 1963.
During a Jackie Wilson concert at the old Fairgrounds Coliseum in Nashville, Tennessee, Brenda met her future husband, Ronnie (born May 12, 1944). They were married on April 24, 1963 at Radnor Church of Christ in Nashville, Tennessee.
Brenda and Ronnie have two daughters, Julie and Jolie, and two granddaughters. Julie was born in 1964 and was married in October 1986. Jolie was born in 1969 and married in January 1993. Both granddaughters were born on November 12 - one in 1988 and the other in 1996.
FIRSTS FOR BRENDA
• FIRST SONG LEARNED
A tearful ballad "My Daddy is Only a Picture" (a song recorded by Eddy Arnold in 1948).
• FIRST PUBLIC APPEARANCE (1950)
At the age of 5 Brenda represented Conyers (Georgia) Grade School in an annual talent contest at the Spring Festival conducted among several elementary schools in the area. Brenda donned a home-made evening gown and sang "Slow Poke" or "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" (according to different sources). Brenda won first prize in the talent contest and runner-up in the beauty contest.
• FIRST RADIO SHOW
This competition led to an offer to sing on a regular basis on Starmakers Revue, a popular Atlanta radio show. Brenda appeared for 1 year. "Too Young" was her first number sung on the air. The sponsor of the show was Borden's Ice Cream. "They didn't pay any money for singing on the show but you could get all the ice cream you could eat," Brenda recalled.
• FIRST TV SHOW
This radio show led to a regular slot on a local TV program called TV Ranch on Atlanta's WAGA-TV. Brenda appeared each Saturday and sang with Boots Woodall and the TV Wranglers. On the first show Brenda sang "Hey Good Lookin." The audience demanded an encore and she sang "Too Young." Brenda received no money, not even ice cream.
• FIRST GOSPEL APPEARANCE
Brenda sang in the church as a young child and at age 5 or 6 sang gospel music with the Master Worker's Quartet in Georgia.
• FIRST PROFESSIONAL PAID JOB
Appearances on TV Ranch lead to her first professional paid job for Shriner's Club Luncheon for which Brenda was paid $20.
In 1955, Brenda's mother married Jay Rainwater. The family lived in Cincinnati, Ohio. Brenda began working in Jimmy Skinner's Record Shop on two Saturday programs over WNOP in Newport, Kentucky. Brenda sang the big country music hits of the day.
Later that year, the family moved to Augusta, Georgia. Brenda appeared on the Peach Blossom Special on WJAT-TV. It was while appearing on this show that the name "Brenda Lee" was created by the show's producer, Sammy Barton. He felt that Tarpley was to difficult to remember and suggested that she shorten her last name to Lee. Jay Rainwater opened a record store in Augusta and called it the Brenda Lee Record Shop. Station WRDW originated a program in the shop each week and Brenda sang on the show. Disc jockey Charlie Raiford "Peanuts" Faircloth was the announcer. Brenda composed her own theme song:
"Brother, if you want to get the lowdown,
Come along and let's all have a hoedown,
At the Brenda Lee Record Shop Saturday at 3,
On the Brenda Lee Jam-bo-reeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Brenda received no money for these shows but the exposure led to several bookings.
• FIRST BIG BREAK
In February 1956, a radio station in Swansboro, Georgia asked her to be a guest on the Peach Blossom Jamboree program for $30. Brenda turned down the offer to go see one of her favorite entertainers, country music singer Red Foley. Mr. Foley was visiting Augusta with the cast of the ABC-TV show Ozark Jubilee at the Bell Auditorium. Brenda met Mr. Foley and his manager, Dub Albritten. Peanuts Faircloth asked Foley if he would let Brenda sing a song on the show. Foley agreed to put her on the show. Foley said "I still get cold chills thinking about the first time I heard that voice." Mr. Foley introduced Brenda. "One foot started patting rhythm as though she was stomping out a prairie fire but not another muscle in that little body even as much as twitched. And when she did that trick of breaking her voice, it jarred me out of my trance enough to realize I'd forgotten to get off the stage. There I stood, after 26 years of supposedly learning how to conduct myself in front of an audience, with my mouth open two miles wide and a glassy stare in my eyes." Brenda performed Jambalaya then another tune, then another, and still another. She left the stage with the crowd shouting for more. "The way I stood back and enjoyed watching her work I felt guilty for not going out to the box office and buying a ticket," said Foley.
• FIRST NATIONAL TV APPEARANCE
After this show, Brenda was offered a guest spot on Foley's Ozark Jubilee. On Saturday, March 31, 1956, Brenda made her first network television appearance on the Ozark Jubilee from Springfield, Missouri. Brenda sang "Jambalaya" on the Junior Jubilee portion which featured younger talent. The producers of the show received three times the day's usual fan mail with nearly all asking to see Brenda on the show again. Also, Jack O'Brien, a New York columnist for the Journal American opened his TV review by saying that "I didn't catch the name of the 9-year-old singer on last night's Ozark Jubilee but she belts a song like a star." This led to bookings on the Perry Como Show and other national TV shows. The family moved to Springfield and Brenda became a regular on the Ozark Jubilee. Brenda appeared on the Ozark Jubilee (later Jubilee U.S.A. - by 1957) from 1956-1959 as a guest then as a regular.
• FIRST RECORDING CONTRACT
On May 21, 1956, Paul Cohen, the A and R man at Decca Records, signed Brenda to a recording contract with Decca Records.
• FIRST RECORDING SESSION
Brenda's first recording session was on July 30, 1956. She recorded seven songs that day with Paul Cohen as her producer. The songs were: "Jambalaya," "Bigelow 6-200," "Some People," "Your Cheatin' Heart," "I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus," "Doodle Bug Rag," and "Christy Christmas."
• FIRST SINGLE RELEASE
"Jambalaya"/"Bigelow 6-200" was released as the first single on September 17, 1956.
• FIRST CHART SUCCESS
There was moderate chart success in early 1957 with Brenda's third release, "One Step At a Time." It climbed to #43 in the Billboard charts. The song peaked at #15 on the country charts.
The next single, "Dynamite," has importance because it gave her the nickname of "Little Miss Dynamite". . . because of her explosive stage act. The title is still used today to describe Brenda. "Dynamite" was the last chart success for the next 2-1/2 years.
In 1957, Dub Albritten became her personal manager and remained so until his death in 1972. Brenda and her family also moved to Nashville in 1957.
• FIRST APPEARANCE ON THE GRAND OLD OPRY
Brenda's first Grand Old Opry Performance was in December 1957 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. She met Elvis Presley for the first time. One of Brenda's fondest memories is of appearing on the show with Elvis.
Owen Bradley became Brenda's record producer with the recording session of May 8, 1958. "Ring-A- My-Phone" and "The Golden Key" were recorded that day. "Little Jonah" was recorded on May 15, 1958. "Ring-A-My-Phone" and "Little Jonah" was the first single release with Bradley as producer. Bradley was Brenda's record producer for most recordings until 1976.
• FIRST ALBUM RELEASED
Brenda's first album, "Grandma What Great Songs You Sang" was released on August 3, 1958.
• FIRST TOP TEN SONG
On August 13, 1959, Brenda recorded "Sweet Nothin's." The song was released on September 29, 1959. It peaked at #4 on the Billboard charts in late April 1960. This single became the first of many top 10 songs for Brenda. "Sweet Nothin's" was Brenda's first chart success in England climbing to #4 and the first chart success in Germany, peaking at # 34.
• FIRST NUMBER ONE SONG
• FIRST GOLD RECORD
On March 28, 1960 Brenda recorded "I'm Sorry." The song was released on May 30, 1960. The song hit # 1 during the summer of 1960 and stayed on the Top 100 for over 6 months. "I'm Sorry" was also Brenda's first gold record selling over one million records and is her biggest selling record. The song became a huge international hit, and by the end of 1960 Brenda was an international recording artist.
• FIRST CHRISTMAS STANDARD
On October 19, 1958, Brenda recorded "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree." The song was released as a single but the record failed to chart in either 1958 or 1959. The song was re-released in 1960 and became a big hit this time. This song is a Christmas standard and is #4 in the Top 10 All Time Christmas Songs. It is Brenda's second biggest selling record. On June 12, 13, and 23, 1964, Brenda recorded songs for her "Merry Christmas" Album which was released on October 19, 1964. In 1991, Brenda recorded her second Christmas album for Warner Brothers Records.