Brenda Lee, a Queen of Christmas and So Much More

“She is living proof of how important you can be and how long you can last if you’re talented and you work hard and you truly love people,” the country singer Tanya Tucker said in an email. Lee inducted Tucker into the Country Music Hall of Fame in October, and people are still talking about the dry delivery and killer comic timing of her speech. Lee has, Tucker added, “the best sense of humor known to man (or woman).”

For the past four years, “Rockin’” has peaked at No. 2, but in honor of its 65th anniversary, Lee’s label is giving the song an extra push, including a new music video that features Lee lip-syncing to the tune she recorded as a teen, and even a TikTok account. Only one woman and her whistle register seem to stand in the way of this decades-old song hitting No. 1.

“Now I gotta worry about Mariah,” Lee said with a feisty laugh. “Get outta here, girl!” Growing more serious, she added, “Oh, there’s room for everybody. Her song’s good, too. I love her singing.”

Lee and Carey have never met, but they would certainly have a lot to talk about — like how it feels to have a groundbreaking, history-making career reduced in the popular imagination to a seasonal novelty. Because while Brenda Lee is a Christmas queen, she’s also so much more.

A LOT OF PEOPLE have stories. Brenda Lee has stories. She first met Elvis Presley in 1957 (“He was the pretty Elvis then”) when she was 12, the night she made her Grand Ole Opry debut; he was watching in the wings. “I’m never star-struck by anyone, and I’ve met the biggest,” she said. “But I was tongue-tied when I met him.”

Patsy Cline was her early tour mate and mentor (“a good old broad, in the nicest sense of the word”). While still in her teens, Lee shared bills with Little Richard, Chubby Checker, Dusty Springfield — the list is seemingly endless. In 1962, at the peak of her worldwide popularity, while in Hamburg on tour, the Beatles opened for her. “They were raw musically,” she said, “but they were fabulous.” The admiration was mutual: Years later, in a Rolling Stone interview, John Lennon declared that Lee “has the greatest rock ’n’ roll voice of them all.”

Must Read

Related Articles