It is an iconic Christmas classic — still one of the most popular songs on the radio and played at home, even 60 years after it became a hit (in 2008, the 50th anniversary of the song, it appeared at #37 on the Billboard Hot 100!). And the woman who made it such a standard says she loves it as much as we do:
Brenda Lee recorded “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” when she was just 13 years old. Written by Johnny Marks, who had a history of successful Christmas songs for the country format (Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and Burl Ives’ “A Holly Jolly Christmas”), Lee’s song didn’t seem like it was on a similar path.
Selling only 5,000 copies at release, and not performing much better when it was released a year ago, it had a slow start.
However, all of that would change in its third release, eventually selling more than five million copies.
Lee has said that she knew that “Rockin'” would take off, because in the recording studio, it felt magical. And it is still a song that people of all ages ask her to perform — any time of year:
When we interviewed Lee for Growing Bolder Radio in 2008, she shared with us some of the highlights of her long career, and what it is like to be mentioned in the same breath as Elvis Presley, to be in the same list of top four recording artists of all time with Elvis, The Beatles and Ray Charles and to join the likes of Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Hank Williams Jr. in some of country music’s top honors.
A quick look at her awards and accomplishments:
- Grammy Awards 1961 Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for “I’m Sorry”
- NME Awards World Female Singer 1962, 1963, 1964
- Grammy Awards 1970 Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for “Johnny One Time”
- Grammy Awards 1980 Best Female Country Vocal Performance for “Tell Me What It’s Like”
- Grammy Awards 1999 Hall of Fame Induction
- Academy of Country Music 2007 Cliffe Stone Pioneer Award
- Dove Awards Country Album of the Year for “Gospel Duets with Treasured Friends”
- Grammy Awards 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award
The musician recently spoke with Rolling Stone and said that life at 74 — she celebrated her birthday on December 11! — is both normal and fulfilling:
“[It is] just the regular day of a woman that has kids, grandkids, a husband and a house.”
But her schedule tells a different story. She continues to attend and perform at awards shows, local events and more — just enough, she says, to satisfy her “creative juices.”
Lee, known as “Little Ms. Dynamite,” has been married for more than 50 years to her husband Ronnie, and lives in Nashville, Tennessee.