Interview with Brenda Lee: ‘Little Miss Dynamite’
By: Markos Papadatos
Country Music, Rockabilly and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Brenda Lee chatted with Greek-American journalist Markos Papadatos. The living legend opened up about her illustrious career in music, which has spanned well over five decades and her most memorable moments.
Since the 1960s, Lee has had 37 songs that charted on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, which is a noteworthy milestone since it is only surpassed by The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Connie Francis and Ray Charles.
On February 7, 2009, she was presented with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at a special merit awards ceremony that was held at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles, California.
Due to her petite stature, yet powerhouse and dynamic voice, she has been affectionately known as “Little Miss Dynamite,” and rightfully so.
She is best-known for her chart-topping single “I’m Sorry,” as well as her Christmas classic “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree,” which is consistently ranked as one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time. “One of the hardest things to do in the industry is to get a standard Christmas song. I have been blessed enough to have one. We recorded it first in 1958 and it didn’t really become a hit until the Christmas of 1960. The original recording has been released every year since then,” she said. “‘I’m Sorry’ was my first big hit on the charts. I love that song as well.”
Lee noted that she loves performing in front of a live audience. “That’s my favorite medium,” she said. “I love to be before a crowd. Although I love studio work, there is nothing like a one-on-one time with each other to get a check of their emotions right then and there.”
In April of 2007, Lee released a gospel album entitled Gospel Duets with Treasured Friends, and one of the tracks, “Uncloudy Day,” was a duet with country songstress Martina McBride. “I enjoyed doing that with Martina. She is a wonderful singer and that is one of my very favorite old spirituals. I enjoyed doing that whole project,” she said.
Regarding the key to longevity in the music industry, Lee shared, “The fans are the key. You need to have good songs out there and you need to be loyal and travel and do your shows and go to where the people are.”
She continued, “In the end, it’s the people who buy the records and come to see the shows. They absolutely make who you are.”
When asked about her proudest professional moments, she remarked, “I have been so blessed with such a great career. Everything about it has been special. From the first time I ever performed for a few people to the Queen of England to heads of state, to thousands and thousands of people, to radio shows, to television shows to my first talent show. You name it and I have loved it.”
On her coveted Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, she stated, “I finally made it in and I am proud to be there,” she said. “Country music means so much to me and so does rock and roll, since it is my roots and that’s where I started. They are both very important to me. Had I not gotten into either one, I would have still loved everything I done and I would have appreciated everything.”
In July of 2013, Lee made headlines in Country Weekly after rapper Kanye West sampled her song “Sweet Nothin’s” in the track “Bound 2” of his new album. “He sampled it on his new album and I think that was a compliment to the songwriter that wrote that record. Anytime your songs are recognized by a new generation is a compliment,” she said. “I’m afraid to listen to it since I don’t know what the content will be, but Kanye is very successful and does his own thing and more power to him,” she added.
Particularly impressive about Brenda Lee is that she just celebrated her fiftieth wedding anniversary this past April.
On balancing a music career and a family, she underscored the importance of choosing your priorities in life. “Choose the roads that you are going to take and hopefully, they will be the right ones. Children are what I always wanted, and when I was blessed enough to have them, I wanted to be as good of a mother as I could be working on the road like I was. Fortunately, I was able to do that.”
Lee continues to stay in touch with her fans. “I work and I keep up with a lot of the fans on the Internet. I call a lot of them since a lot are very close to them and they are my good friends. I still get a lot of fanmail and I make sure I answer every one. I also do meet and greets before the shows,” she said.
In her spare time, Lee enjoys doing benefit work in town, and she works with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “I do things for the Country Music Hall of Fame and I give back whenever I can,” she said.
For aspiring musicians, Lee offered some great advice. “If you are young, get your education first and go to school. You can always do the other. I did both and it can be done,” she said.
Brenda Lee defined success as “the realization of a dream that I had when I was just a little girl, before I even knew what a dream was.” “That dream was to sing, so I had fulfilled that dream along with the fans that have allowed me to do that,” she said.
For her dedicated fans, Lee concluded, “Thank you for all of the years of support and loyalty. Thank you for going out and buying the records. Thank you for spending your hard-earned money to come and see the shows and thank you for remembering me and my work all these years.”
To learn more about living musical legend Brenda Lee, visit her official website www.brendalee.com
Photo credit: Dennis Carney