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Spotlight Artist - Brenda Lee

Brenda LeeThis month's spotlight is on "Little Miss Dynamite," Brenda Lee. This dynamic perfomer sang rockabilly, pop and country music, and had 37 US chart hits during the 1960s, a number surpassed only by Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Ray Charles and Connie Francis.  She is best known for her 1960 hit "I'm Sorry", and 1958's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", a US holiday standard for more than 50 years.

At 4 ft 9 inches tall, 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.

She was born in Atlanta,  Georgia.  In 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 contestIn 1956 Brenda got her first big break when she visited her favorite country singer, Red Foley.  She was invited to sing a song on his show and  Brenda performed "Jambalaya."  She continued to sing song after song to the amazement of Foley who was quoted as saying "I felt guilty not going to the box office and buying a ticket to watch her perform."

On May 21, 1956 at the age of 12, Brenda signed her first recording contract with Decca records.  Her 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."

"Jambalaya"/"Bigelow 6-200" was released as the first single on September 17, 1956. 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. 

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.

Brenda's first number one song was released in May 1960. "I'm Sorry" stayed on the charts for 6 months.

 

In 1959, Dub Albritten decided it was time to book her on an international level. He arranged a booking in Paris, France. On February 18, 1959 Brenda opened in Paris, France at the Olympia Music Hall with Gilbert Becaud. She was originally signed for 3 weeks and was held over for another 5 weeks. The appearance almost ended before it started. Publicity pictures had been sent over and showed Brenda dressed in her typical schoolgirl clothes. The theatre kept writing asking for more recent pictures because they could not believe that such a big voice could come from such a little girl. Albritten kept writing and said that these were recent pictures. Then Dub had an idea to manufacture a story which ran in the French paper, La Figaro, that Brenda was actually a 32 year old midget. Albritten denied the story. The result was great publicity for her. La Figaro compared Brenda favorably to Judy Garland.

The response of the Paris engagement lead to more European dates in Germany, Italy, and England followed by a tour of South America. Jack Good's Oh Boy! TV show introduced Brenda to the British audience. In Brazil, she received the greatest reception ever accorded an American entertainer as she made a month-long tour with 21 performances. The tour netted 51 front page newspaper stories and features in nine magazines. Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitshek de Oliveira said she was "the best goodwill ambassador the U.S. ever had." After these tours Brenda returned to the states an international star.

All of Brenda Lee's albums have been certified gold or platinum.

On November 30, 1961, Brenda recorded her first records sung in German, ("Anybody But Me" and "Fool # 1"), Italian ("Fool # 1"), and French ("Fool # 1") in Nashville, Tennessee. On February 26, 1963, Brenda recorded four songs sung in German. The recording took place in West Germany with Bert Kampfert as producer. Brenda recorded six more songs in German on March 26, 1964 in Nashville, Tennessee. Several songs which became hits in Germany including "No My Boy," "Wiedersehn Ist Wunderschen," and "Ich Will Immer Auf Dich Warten" which became Brenda's highest charted record in Germany reaching #13 in the charts by the end of 1964.

On September 17, 1964, Brenda recorded "Is It True" and "What'd I Say" in England with Mickey Most as producer. "Is It True" was released in England and then in the States and become a very big hit and gained gold record status. "What'd I Say" was released in Europe but never in the United States.

In July 1965, Brenda conquered Japan with her first of many tours. Her first Japanese recording was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee on February 16, 1965. The song was "One Rainy Night in Tokyo" sung in English and Japanese. This song became one of Brenda's many gold records and one of many standards in Japan. On July 13, 1965, Brenda recorded three Christmas songs ("White Christmas", "Silent Night," and "Jingle Bells"), originally released on the "Merry Christmas" album, in Japan. These three songs were never released in the United States. Two live albums have been released in Japan. The first was "Live in Tokyo" in 1965 and the second one was "Live in Japan" in 1975. On October 13 and 14, 1977, Brenda recorded twelve songs in Japan which were originally released on the Japanese album "Just for You, Something Nice."


Richard Barstow was a top national choreographer and was Brenda's choreographer for many years starting in 1963 and lasting until his death in 1982. Barstow is also known for the choreography for Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Judy Garland. He was the choreographer for Judy Garland in A Star Is Born. A signed picture of Richard Barstow and Judy Garland that Brenda has hanging on her wall states: "To Dear Brenda Lee Ñ A Marvelous Artist. Another "Great" in My Life. Love from Richard Barstow."

Brenda made summer stock appearances in the Wizard of Oz (1963) as Dorothy and Bye Bye Birdie (1962) as Kim. Brenda starred for 3 highly successful seasons at Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee. In the 1988 and 1989 seasons, she performed in Music, Music, Music. In the 1990 season, Brenda starred in Spirit of America. Brenda performed in 754 shows during the 3-year run, NEVER missing a show!!!!

This artist still makes performances today.  She will always remain in our heart as "Little Miss Dynamite."

 

 

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