Brenda Lee Interview

Brenda Lee is one of the most recognizable and significant names in the music business. She is blessed with a powerful voice and a commanding stage presence. Brenda has recorded several different genres of music including rockabilly, country, rock and pop in her extraordinary career. The year 2000 marked Brenda’s 50th anniversary in show business. She was born Brenda Mae Tarpley in December of 1944 in Atlanta, Georgia. At just eleven years old in 1956 Brenda released her first single “Jambalaya.” Several hit songs followed such as “I’m Sorry,” “Sweet Nothin’s,” “I Want To Be Wanted,” “Break It To Me Gently,” and the classic Christmas standard “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree!!” Since then she has traveled all over the world performing music in several different languages such as French, Italian, Japanese, and German. The trek to Europe gave Brenda the distinction of being an international superstar!! Brenda is a member of the Country Music Hall Of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame! She has sold over 100 million records and had successful singles charted in the Pop/Rock, Rock, Easy Listening and Country charts. Brenda is a living legend and well loved and respected by her peers. It is truly an honor to speak with her for an in-person interview at her office outside of Nashville, Tennessee.

(Biography courtesy of Country Stars Central)


(CSC) 1. First off I’d like you to tell me about your latest record “Gospel Duets with Treasured Friends.” Why did you decide to record a Gospel record and do you have plans to release another?

(Brenda Lee)
It’s always a given in the entertainment world that when you record, you always do a Christmas album, and a Gospel album. I just never got around to doing a Gospel album and I thought it was time. Being a daughter of the south, I grew up in the church and gospel music. That’s my heritage, my roots in music. It was just a match for me. These are songs that I grew up with. When I started recording the album, I thought it would be fun to get some of my buddies to come and sing with me, because I’d never really done that in my career. I called some folks and they said sure, and we got the project done and Provident (the record company) loved it! I hope that there will be an opportunity to do more.

(CSC) 2. The Gospel album features many duets with some of the best in the business. How did you manage to gather so many great artists to be a part of the project?

(Brenda Lee)
All of the artists featured on this record are good friends of mine. I told them that I would love for them to be a part of it, and if there were any songs that they felt like singing they could record them. Everybody I called said yes, so I felt very blessed and very fortunate. It just all came together perfectly.


(CSC) 3. In the early years of your career you traveled all over Europe performing songs in German, French, Italian and Japanese. How did you manage to learn to sing those songs in several different languages?

(Brenda Lee)
Well actually I learned phonetically, and then traveling to those countries every year for many years in a row I learned to speak the languages. I always thought that it was important when you go to a foreign country that you try to speak their language a little bit. Most of them speak ours, and if they don’t they give it an attempt. I thought it would be fun learning new languages. I loved it! I had kind of a flare for learning them. It was quite easy for me.


(CSC) 4. You appeared on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” on several occasions during the 1960’s. What special stories can you share from being a part of his legendary show?

(Brenda Lee)
Well it was very exciting! Dick Clark is a very iconic figure in our entertainment world, and was a very important piece of musical history. He gave a lot of struggling artists breaks on his wonderful show. It was a very important venue to be on. You were almost assured of having a hit record if you could get on Dick’s show.


(CSC) 5. You are a member of the Country Music Hall Of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. To be a member of both is a rarity, what does this honor mean to you as an artist?

(Brenda Lee)
Well, I’m the only woman in the Rock and Roll and Country Music Hall of Fame, so it’s still pretty much surreal to me that I’m a member of those institutions. The artists that I admire, and love are all members of those halls. For me to be a member of their company is just unbelievable. I’m very grateful!


CSC) 6. Growing up as a young girl what was life like for you?

(Brenda Lee)
We were very poor, and we struggled but we had a lot of love! I worked very hard growing up. My mom was very dedicated, and she helped me with my career. I lost her a year ago, November. She was a very integral part of my life as a child, of course being my mother, but also in my career in the professional world. I don’t know if I would have been able to do what I have done without her helping in those early years.


(CSC) 7. In 1957 you made your debut on the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium with Elvis Presley. What do you enjoy most about playing the Opry, and tell us about your special meeting with “The King.”

(Brenda Lee)
Well Elvis and I shared the stage. That was my very first appearance. I believe it was his as well. We were both very well received that evening. He was a very nice man. We became friends then and stayed friends throughout his life. It was a big moment for me because I was kind of like a mascot of the Grand Ole Opry. I hung around backstage all the time just waiting for somebody to say, “Hey would you like to be on the show?” And finally they did and it was great!


(CSC) 8. You began your career at a very early age. Did you ever regret not having a typical childhood?

(Brenda Lee)
I think I had about as normal a childhood as you could have, or maybe more so being in the entertainment world. I went to public school. I was a cheerleader. I was on the debating squad. I went to my prom. I did all those things that kids do. I think I had the best of both worlds really to be honest with you.


(CSC) 9. You’ve successfully recorded many different genres of music throughout your career. What genre do you consider your true calling? (Enjoy the most performing)

(Brenda Lee)
Gosh, I don’t know! I started out rockabilly in the early days. I was part of the Rock and Roll movement, female wise. Then I was country for some time. I’ve enjoyed, like you said, several genres of music. I don’t know really. I love the ballads but I’m pretty much of a rocker, I think! (Laughs)


(CSC) 10. In 2002 you released your autobiography “Little Miss Dynamite; The Brenda Lee Story.” Do you feel like you were able to say everything you wanted to in it?

(Brenda Lee)
Yes I do because my life has been an open book you know. Fortunately there’s not a lot of filth and dirt (laughs) that you find in some books. That was not what I was striving to do in this book. I was striving to show the people that I’ve worked with in my career. I’ve been fortunate to sit at their knees, and learn my craft. I wanted to talk about them, the music, and what it’s like to tour when you’re a child growing up in this world of entertainment being able to come out on the other end unscathed.


(CSC) 11. What would you consider your greatest accomplishment in your career and why?

(Brenda Lee)
Still being here and having a career! After fifty years of recording still being able to work, and still being able to be accepted in my professional life. I think that’s my biggest achievement.


(CSC) 12. (This next question was submitted from one of our loyal readers Kenny of Hermitage, TN) Hi Ms. Dynamite, I’ve always LOVED your music and that voice of yours!! Do you have plans to release a NEW country album anytime soon?

(Brenda Lee)
Right now we are talking about going into the studio and doing something more oriented towards the jazz field. We’re kind of experimenting right now. A country album isn’t out of the question though! So we’ll see what happens!


(CSC) 13. Not many people may know this but you were produced by Owen Bradley for many years who also worked with the legendary Patsy Cline. Did you ever have the chance to meet Patsy personally?

(Brenda Lee)
Patsy was one of my dear friends. Yes, I was very fortunate to know her even though she was almost twelve years older than I am. She was just a wonderful sweet lady. She was so talented!! She had such a big heart. A really great person to be around.


(CSC) 14. What’s the one thing in life you’re absolutely sure about?

(Brenda Lee)
That I know who I am!!


(CSC) 15. You’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with several “legendary” artists. Can you share some stories from working with them?

(Brenda Lee)
Working with all the entertainers starting back with the ones of my mom’s generation like Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., and then many great rock and rollers has been a blast. I worked with the great country people like Hank Williams, George Jones, Tammy, Loretta, Kitty, and Patsy. You name them and I’ve worked with them! Even the blues musicians like B.B. King. I’ve even done some jazz with Miles Davis. It’s been a wonderful ride! I feel so blessed to have been on the train for a long time, and to be able to learn from these great people.


(CSC) 16. You’ve been a featured guest on Lorianne Crook’s television show “Celebrity Kitchen” several times in the past years. What was it like being on the show and what are some of your favorite “southern specialties” to make in your kitchen at home?

(Brenda Lee)
Well I love to cook. I cook all kinds of food. I’m pretty adept at cooking I think. I’ll experiment. I love Lorianne. I love those cooking show because they’re fun! You can be a lousy cook or you can be a good cook. They always make you look like you’re a good cook though! (Laughs)


(CSC) 17. What advice would you give to young girls trying to make it in the music business in today’s culture?

(Brenda Lee)
Get your education. If you’re a child, be a child. Don’t try to be an adult. That’s coming way too soon for you. Enjoy your childhood. Embrace it. Love it. Experience the things that your age group experiences. You can do both!


(CSC) 18. You are going to be hosting the “Sunday Mornin’ Country” event this June at the legendary Ryman Auditorium. What are you looking forward to most about this show and how did the opportunity come together?

(Brenda Lee)
Well I hosted it for four years. Last year I wasn’t able to do it. This year they called me back, and I told them I would love to do it again. I love that show! I’m a Christian so any time that I can be on a show that exposes good news and good music to people, that’s a good thing for me. I just think that it’s a good show, and there are wonderful people that participate in it. I hope everybody will come out this year as they have in the past and enjoy the morning with us. You ought to make a point of coming to it too!!


(CSC) 19. What can your fans expect next from YOU?

(Brenda Lee)
Oh lord, who knows?! I still do some road work every now and then. I’m blessed to be able to do that. I don’t do it near as much as I used to do by choice. I’d like to get into the studio and do some more projects, but, that just remains to be seen.


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