Brenda Mae Tarpley, later known as Brenda Lee, was born in Atlanta's Emory University Hospital charity ward on December 11, 1944. By the age of three she was already showing a remarkable ability to memorize and sing songs she had heard only once or twice. At age five the future musical star won first prize in a Conyers, Georgia, singing contest.
In 1953 the death of her father left Brenda, by now a local radio and television star, the principal breadwinner for her mother and three siblings. The Tarpleys moved to Augusta, where Brenda was discovered by Red Foley, the host of ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee. In March 1956 Foley booked the young star for the first of several appearances on the Jubilee. That same year, he brought her to Decca Records in Nashville and she has since resided in Tennessee. At four feet, nine inches, Lee became known in the United States as “Little Miss Dynamite.” Abroad, the teen idol's small stature gave rise to rumors that she was really a thirty-five-year-old midget.
During the next two decades, Brenda Lee had dozens of pop hits on Decca including “I'm Sorry,” “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree,” and “Sweet Nothin's.” By the 1970s Lee was recording country music for MCA Records, where the Oak Ridge Boys joined her on one of her recordings. Her recordings for Elektra, Monument, and Epic also made the charts. She recorded duets with Willie Nelson and George Jones. Brenda Lee has sold an estimated 100 million records.
Lee lives in Nashville with her husband, Charles “Ronnie” Shacklett, to whom she has been married since 1963. In 1997 she became a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.