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.
(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?
Well, you know, it's always a given, usually, in the entertainment world, that when you record, you always do whatever else you do, you always do a Christmas album and a gospel album.
Well, I just never got around to doing a gospel album, and I thought it was time, and being a daughter of the South, I grew up in a church, and gospel music that's my heritage, my roots in music, so, it was just a match for me. And these are songs that I grew up with, and when I started recording the album, I thought, well, wouldn't it be fun, you know, to get some of my buddies to come and sing with me, because I've really never done that a lot in my career. So, I called some folks, and they said sure, and they came over, and we got the project done, and probably loved it, the record company. And I hope maybe, you know, there'll be an opportunity to do more, I hope.
(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?
Well, these are, like I said, these are just my friends. And I called them and I said, I would love for you to be a part of this. If there's a song that you feel like that you could sing, I would love for you, you know, to be a part of this project. And they said we would love to. And everybody I called said yes. So, I felt very blessed and very fortunate. It, it just all came together.
(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?
Well, actually I learned phonetically to start with and then traveling to those countries every year for many, many years in a row I learned to speak the languages. So, I always thought it was important that when you go to a foreign country you try to speak their language a little bit. Because they, they, most of them speak Irish, they speak English, and if they don't, they give it an attempt. So, I thought it would be fun, and I loved doing the languages. And, and I had kind of a flair for learning them, and it was 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 and what was it like for you?
Well, it was very exciting. Dick Clark was a very iconic figure or is an iconic figure in our entertainment world and was a very important piece of musical history and gave a lot of us breaks on his wonderful American Bandstand Show. So it was, it was a very important venue to be on to, 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?
Well, I'm the only woman in the Rock and Roll and the Country Music Hall of Fame. So, it, it, it It's, it's still pretty much surreal to me that I'm a member of those institutions the artists that I admire and love and, and all that are, are members of those halls are, are, for me to be a part of their company is just unbelievable. I'm very grateful.
(CSC) 6. Growing up as a young girl what was life like for you?
We were very poor. We struggled. Had a lot of love. I worked very hard. I My mom was a very dedicated mother that 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 my career in the professional world. And, don't know if I would have, I've been able to do what I've done without her help 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.”
Well, Elvis and I shared the stage. That was my first appearance, and I think it was his as well. We were both very well received. 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, 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?
Well, you know I think I had about as normal of 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, and I think I had the best of both worlds.
(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)
Gosh, I don't know, because, you know, I started rockabilly, then I was part of the rock and roll movement, female wise, and then I was country, and, so I've, I've enjoyed, like you say, several genres of music. I don't know, I love the ballads, but I'm, I'm pretty much of a rocker, I think.
(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?
Yeah, I do, because my life has been an open book, you know, and fortunately there's not a lot of filth and dirt that you find in some books, and that was not what I was striving to do in this book. I was striving to, to show the people that that I've worked with that I've been fortunate to sit at their knees and learn my craft and, and I wanted to, to talk about them and talk about music and, and what it is to tour when you're a child and grow up in this, this world of entertainment as a child and come out on the other end unscathed sort of.
(CSC) 11. What would you consider your greatest accomplishment in your career and why?
Still being here and having a career. After 50 years of recording, still, still being able to work, still being able to be accepted. And that, 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 Gerald 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?
We're talking about going in the studio and doing something more oriented toward the jazz feel. With maybe me and just a little trio. We're kind of experimenting, but that's not, that's not out of the question. So, we'll see.
(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?
Patsy was one of my dear friends. Yes, I was fortunate to know her even though she was almost 12 years older than I am. Just a wonderful, sweet lady, so talented, such a big heart.
(CSC) 14. What’s the one thing in life you’re absolutely sure about?
The one thing I'm absolutely sure about is I know who I am.
(CSC) 15. You’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with several “legendary” country queens such as Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton just to name a few. Can you share some stories from working with these women?
Oh, working with all the entertainers, entertainers starting back, you know with the entertainers of my mom's generation, Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jr. and all that ilk. And then working with the great rock and rollers, working with the great Country people like Hank Williams, and George Jones, and Tammy, and Loretta, and Kitty, and Patsy, and you know, you name them, I've worked with them.
And the blues people, B. B. King, and Miles Da well, jazz, Miles Davis. And the gospel people, you know Mahalia Jackson, and Just, Claire Ward, just wonderful people. So, it's just, it's just been a wonderful, wonderful ride. And I, I just feel so blessed to have been on the train for a long time and to have gotten to, to be with these people and to learn from them.
(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?
I love to cook. I love to cook. I, I cook all kinds of food, and, and I'm pretty adept at cooking, I think, and, and I'll experiment, and You know, so, I love Lorianne. I love those cooking shows because they're fun. You know, you can be a lousy cook, or you can be a good cook, and they make you look like you're a good cook. Really? Yeah, they do.
(CSC) 17. What advice would you give to young girls trying to make it in the music business in today’s culture?
Get your education. If you're a child, be a child. Don't try to be an adult too soon. That's coming, that's coming way too soon for you. Enjoy your childhood. Embrace it. Love it. Experience the things that your age group experiences and get your education. You can
(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?
Well, I hosted it for four years and then last year I couldn't do it. And then this year they called me back and I said I would. And, and I love that show. I'm, I'm a Christian and anytime that I can be on a show that exposes good news and good music to people. That's, that's a good thing for me. And I just think it's a good show and wonderful people that participate and I hope everybody will come out this year as they have in the past and, and enjoy the, the morning with us.
(CSC) 19. What can your fans expect next from YOU?
Oh Lord, who knows? You know, I'm, I, I still do some road work.
I'm, I'm blessed to be able to do that. I don't do near as much as I used to do, by choice. But, like I said, I'd like to get in the studio and, and do some, some more projects. That just remains to be seen.