Brenda Mae Tarpley (born December 11, 1944), known as Brenda Lee, is an American performer and the top-charting female vocalist of the 1960s. She sang rockabilly, pop and country music, and had 47 US chart hits during the 1960s, and is ranked fourth in that decade surpassed only by Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Ray Charles. She is best known for her 1960 hit "I'm Sorry", and 1958's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", a United States holiday standard for more than 50 years.
At 4 ft 9 inches tall (approximately 145 cm), she received the nickname Little Miss Dynamite in 1957 after recording the song "Dynamite"; and was one of the earliest pop stars to have a major contemporary international following.
Lee's popularity faded in the late 1960s as her voice matured, but she continued a successful recording career by returning to her roots as a country singer with a string of hits through the 1970s and 1980s. She is a member of the Rock and Roll, Country Music and Rockabilly Halls of Fame. She is also a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. Brenda currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Lee was born Brenda Mae Tarpley in the charity ward of Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, the daughter of Annie Grayce (Yarbrough) and Reuben Lindsey Tarpley. She weighed 4 pounds 11 ounces at birth. She attended grade schools wherever her father found work, primarily in the corridor between Atlanta and Augusta. Her family was poor, living hand-to-mouth; she shared a bed with her two siblings in a series of three-room houses without running water. Life centered on her parents finding work, their extended family, and the Baptist church, where she sang solos every Sunday.
Lee's father was the son of a farmer in Georgia's red-clay belt. Although he stood 5 ft 7 inches (170 cm), he was an excellent left-handed pitcher and spent 11 years in the United States Army playing baseball. Her mother had a similar background of an uneducated working-class family in Greene County, Georgia.
Lee was a musical prodigy. Although her family did not have indoor plumbing until after her father's death, they had a battery-powered table radio that fascinated Brenda as a baby. By the time she was two, she could whistle the melody of songs she heard on the radio. Both her mother and sister remembered taking her repeatedly to a local candy store before she turned three; one of them would stand her on the counter and she would earn candy or coins for singing.
At a young age, Brenda was invited to sing for such television personalities like Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen, and Red Skelton.
At the age of 7, Brenda had already become a regular on an Atlanta radio show "Starmaker's Revue."