Biography

Brenda Lee: Little Miss Dynamite (4 Dec. 2001)

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Brenda Mae Tarpley Reaches Previously Uncharted New Heights
22 July 2010 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This episode features the life and career of Country, Rock and Pop Star Brenda Lee, from her 1944 birth, in Atlanta, Georgia, a talented daughter of Annie Grayce Tarpley and Ruben Tarpley, who encourage young Brenda Mae to sing in the local candy shoppe, as well as every Sunday at the Baptist Church to which they belong.

Now, the Tarpley family is very poor, but Brenda Mae is able to enter singing contests, one of which she wins at the age of six, allowing her to sing on an Atlanta radio station each week for a year's time.

Losing her father in 1953, Brenda becomes the Tarpley's primary wage earner although her earnings barely manage to maintain the family's survival. She begins to travel on singing tours, earning enough to pay the bills, while remaining grounded at Maplewood High.

Annie Grayce remarries, and now the family of six resides in a trailer in poor condition although Brenda never complains to those around her at school, where she eagerly presents "the Casuals," a group of five male teenage singers, who accompanies Brenda on her tours.

Soon the family relocates to Nashville, so that Brenda Mae may begin her recording career as Brenda Lee. Country Star Patsy Cline befriends Brenda and keeps an eye on the adoring teen while touring.

Because of child labor laws, Brenda's earnings are protected by the courts, so on more than one occasion, the teenage star must appeal to a judge to grant her permission to contribute to the family's finances, and later to purchase a comfortable residence.

While Brenda is permitted to socialize with others of her age group at gatherings, she's not yet allowed to go out with a boy, but her first date is with fellow recording artist Fabian, and her mother and her manager secretly trail Brenda and Fabian everywhere they go, by hiding in the shrubbery. Nothing happens anyway, but Brenda says that she wouldn't have complained if it had, which, of course, stands to reason.

Well, by now, Brenda's a recording artist in her own right, with the release of 1960's "I'm Sorry," which makes her a star, and she tours internationally, singing in Japanese and German in her host countries.

But she's still not quite sixteen, and many who see her for the first time wonder how she puts as much emotional impact into a sad song as she certainly does. Add to this the fact that she barely stands at 4'9", so the French promoters mistake Brenda Lee as a Munchkin and spread growth-impaired rumors in the press, which follow her for many years to come.

Yet her husband, Ronnie Shacklett, to whom she sent a note at a party, and marries at age eighteen, stands among Nashville's tallest, causing some around town to wonder how long this marriage could last, but the lovely Brenda and Ronnie have been devoted to each other since 1963, and they since welcome daughters, Jolie and Julie, to form a closely-knit family, very proud of Brenda's many noteworthy accomplishments.

Brenda Lee delivers many fine dynamic performances throughout her career spanning more than fifty years, and crossing over from Country to Rock and Pop, making her the female recording artist who appears on more charts than any other, and defining her mark as one of history's all-time greatest.

Interview Guests for this episode consist of Brenda Lee (Self), Ronnie Shacklett (Husband), Jolie Snider (Daughter), Julie Clay (Daughter), Rita Coolidge (Singer), k.d. lang (Singer), Barbara Mandrell (Singer), Dolly Parton (Singer/Actress), Buzz Cason (Singer: the Casuals), Robert K. Oermann (Music Historian/Author), and Ralph Emery (Disc Jockey/Television Host), with Joan London (Host). (The Narrator sounds like Bob Brown, but the credits were obfuscated, rolling by quickly in condensed split-screen.)

Still Photographs include Annie Grayce Tarpley (Mother), Ruben Tarpley (Father), Sisters and Brother, Jay Rainwater (Step-father), Hank Williams, Sr., Jerry Lee Lewis, Dub Albritten, Red Foley, Minnie Pearl, Mel Tillis, George Jones, Patsy Cline, Owen Bradley, Elvis Presley, Fabian, Cyndi Lauper, Elton John, Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells.

Archive film footage includes Brenda Lee, The Casuals, The Beatles, and Owen Bradley, plus a clip from Brenda's receiving the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Governor's Award (September 06, 1984).

Song Clips include Brenda's performing "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" (1956), "Dynamite" (1957), "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" (1958), "Sweet Nothing's" (1959), "I'm Sorry" (1960), "Break It to Me Gently" (1962), "All Alone Am I" (1962), and "Blue Blue Heart" (c. 1966).


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