Brenda Lee is one of those enduring artists that has had more than one singing career. Starting out as a rockabilly artist, she eventually evolved into vocal pop and then had many hits as a country singer. She’s is still playing live shows that encompass her entire career, and she’ll appear on Dec. 9 at the Nugget Casino Resort.
Lee was born in 1944 in Atlanta, where she often competed in contests and was featured on radio shows even as a young child. She was discovered by singer Red Foley at age 10, and performed on the early country music TV show “Ozark Jubilee” for most of the mid-1950s.
Although she had her beginnings in country, Lee ended up having pop hits in the 1950s. She reached the top 40 with “One Step at a Time” in 1957 and two years later earned a Top 4 hit with “Sweet Nothin’s.” In between, Lee released one of her more enduring songs, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” which reached No. 14 on the charts in 1958 and has become a holiday classic that makes radio playlists every year.
Her commercial peak, though, was just around the corner. She had two No. 1 songs – “I’m Sorry” and “I Want to Be Wanted” – and a top 10 song called “That’s All You Gotta Do” in 1960. From that point, Lee had top 10 hits with “Emotions,” “You Can Depend on Me,” “Dum Dum,” “Fool No. 1,” “Break it To Me Gently,” “Everybody Loves Me But You,” “All Alone Am I” and “Losing You” between 1961 and 1963.
From that point on, Lee earned a few more top 20 hits throughout the ’60s, including “Think,” “Is It True,” “Too Many Rivers,” and “Coming on Strong.”
As the ’70s dawned, Lee shifted gears back into country music. It was a strong transition as she had another big run on top 10 hits, this time on the country charts. From 1973-79, Lee hit with “Nobody Wins,” “Sunday Sunrise,” “Wrong Ideas,” “Big Four Poster Bed,” “Rock on Baby,” “He’s My Rock,” and “Tell Me What It’s Like.” Two more top 10s were added to Lee’s repertoire in 1980, “The Cowgirl and the Dandy” and “Broken Trust,” which was a shared record with the Oak Ridge Boys.
Since her last major label album in 1991, Lee has released just two records, although she’s continued to play live shows. An album called “Precious Memories” was released in 1997, and 10 years later, Lee released “Gospel Duets with Treasured Friends,” which included duets with Dolly Parton, George Jones, Vince Gill and Huey Lewis, among others.
Lee has also been honored for her career achievements in recent years. She was voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and was given a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys in 2009.