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Brenda Lee gets a Number 1 hit — again!

I met Brenda for the first time in 2002 at the Warren Performing Arts Center.

Rita Rose

Great Day TV

Singer Brenda Lee is used to Number 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart: She had three of them in the early ‘60s. But she had to wait almost 65 years to see her 1958 version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” to hit the top! Sixty. Five. Years.

On Dec. 5, her popular holiday classic, recorded when she was only 13, finally made it as the Number 1 Christmas song (adios, Mariah!). That was a long wait for Brenda, who turns 79 on Dec. 11.

The media has exploded with this accomplishment. Major news outlets all over the country are reporting on it and Brenda has been inundated with interview requests. If you’re a follower of Brenda on Facebook you get an All Brenda All The Time newsfeed. Social media is going nuts. It’s really quite exciting!

Brenda is no stranger to hit songs, accolades, awards and honors. She has sold more than 100 million records globally and is the 16th Greatest Hot 100 Female Artist of all time and was Top Female Artist of the 1960s. Her first Number 1 hit was “I’m Sorry” in 1960, followed by “All Alone Am I” and “I Want to be Wanted.” She earned the name “Little Miss Dynamite” after the 4-foot-11-inch star belted out “Dynamite” at age 12.

Yes, I am a Brenda Lee fan. I remember seeing her on the “Ozark Jubilee” in the ’50s and being fascinated that she wasn’t much older than I am. The first single record I ever bought was “Sweet Nothin’s,” followed by several LPs and CDs. I had no idea that one day I’d become one of her fan-friends.

Along came adulthood and I ended up with a cool job as an arts and entertainment reporter at The Indianapolis Star. During those years I got a kick out of being able to interview many of the “teen idol” celebrities whose music filled my youth. In 2002, after three nominations, Brenda finally got into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. She was coming to Indianapolis to put on a Christmas show at the Warren Performing Arts Center just blocks from my house, and I scored some good seats. I'd finally get to see her in concert!

The nomination was news, so arrangements were made to interview her before the concert. I finally got to meet Brenda Lee in an empty hallway near the dressing rooms where we sat on a small divan to talk. She was very sweet and bubbly. We chatted about how I became a fan, then got down to business talking about the HOF and her music. I realized I was sitting across from a music icon who defined my era of rock 'n' roll and how heady that was. Her concert, of course, was spectacular. The audience was practically dancing when she sang “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

The following summer, my friend Carole and I saw her in concert at the Little Nashville Opry in Nashville, Ind. After her show she was outside signing autographs in the parking lot when we approached, and she remembered me! She mentioned her husband Ronnie being with her and I said that I'd love to meet him. She said, "Well, come on in!" and lead us back into the venue and backstage, where we met the tall, handsome Ronnie Shacklett. We also were introduced to her talented backup singers, Sheila Lawrence and Vickie Carrico. Eventually they would become my friends too.

Later that year, Brenda's autobiography "Little Miss Dynamite" was published and I grabbed it as soon as it came into the office.

Brenda holding up my review of her book in the Star.

Sometime in the spring of 2003 I did a phone interview with Brenda about her book. The interview and my review of the book became a huge spread on the Star's Sunday book page with a large picture of Brenda in the middle. Later that summer she was back at the Little Nashville Opry and I went backstage where I presented her with the newspaper spread. "Oh honey," she said in her southern drawl, "this is fantastic!"

After that, I saw Brenda several times in concert in Indianapolis, Nashville, Richmond, Ind. and the Bel Terra casino. We were always invited backstage to hang out with Brenda, her family, backup singers and other longtime fans who were in her circle. We got to know her really well over the years, collecting photos, Christmas cards, autographs and other memories.

The last time I saw her in concert (she has since retired from touring) was in 2012 at the Palladium in Carmel and caught up with her at a Meet & Greet before the concert. I still marvel at how my Brenda connection happened.

Now “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” has brought her newfound fame and put her in the spotlight again. Happy birthday, Brenda! Rock on!


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