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Brenda Lee: The Underestimated Little Miss Dynamite

Brenda Lee was born Brenda Mae Tarpley in Atlanta in 1944. Lee was a bigger star than most people would guess today: She was the top selling female singer of the 1960s and only trailed Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Ray Charles overall. Her height – or lack of height, at 4 foot 9 inches – and the fact that she had an early hit with the song “Dynamite” earned her the nickname Little Miss Dynamite.

The profile at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame site said that she won a talent contest at age five and became a regular on television two years later. This was good news: Her dad had died in a construction accident and the family needed the money. In 1956, she became a regular on Red Foley’s television show and signed a contract with Decca Records. Her third single hit the charts.

The Wikipedia profile said that her career had two phases. Her early stardom faded when her voice matured but she continued as a country singer. She had a string of hits in the 1970s and 1980s. She is in the Rock & Roll, Country Music and Rockabilly Halls of Fame.

Richie Unterberger at AllMusic has a tremendous amount of respect for Lee:

One of the biggest pop stars of the early ’60s, Brenda Lee hasn’t attracted as much critical respect as she deserves. She is sometimes inaccurately characterized as one of the few female teen idols. More crucially, the credit for achieving success with pop-country crossovers usually goes to Patsy Cline, although Lee’s efforts in this era were arguably of equal importance. While she made few recordings of note after the mid-’60s, the best of her first decade is fine indeed, encompassing not just the pop ballads that were her biggest hits, but straight country and some surprisingly fierce rockabilly.

Indeed, all the biographies suggest that Lee was a bit under appreciated. She was said to be one of the few female teen idols of that generation and the first to have a truly international following, due at least in part to a successful tour of France when she was 15 years old.

Above is “I’m Sorry,” which probably was her biggest hit. It is reminiscent of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” in my opinion. Lee clearly was fearless. Somebody without a ton of self confidence wouldn’t share the stage with a bunch of cute puppies. Below is “Sweet Nothins’ ,” another hit.

Wikipedia, AllMusicThe Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Biography were used for this post. Above is “I’m Sorry,” perhaps her biggest hit. Below is “Sweet Nothins’,” another hit.