By APRIL DIODATO
OBSERVER Lifestyles Editor
Her music has become part of the American holiday tradition.
Award-winning recording artist Brenda Lee will be performing her Christmas classics for five nights at the Seneca Allegany Events Center in Salamanca.
When it's time to deck the halls, Lee's hit holiday records can be heard often - on the radio, in stores and on many soundtracks. Her record, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" has sold more than 7 million copies; it is Lee's second best-selling record. The song became a phenomenon when it was re-released in 1960, two years after its first release. It was famously featured in a memorable scene in "Home Alone," a film still shown annually during Christmastime.
When Lee hears those songs now, she is reminded of the many great musicians she worked with when she first recorded them.
Brenda Lee to perform
Where: Seneca Allegany Casino and Hotel in Salamanca.
When: Wednesday and Thursday at 1:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday at 1:30 p.m..
More information: Call 1-888-913-3377 or visit www.senecaalleganycasino.com.
"It's still kind of surreal in a way," Lee said. "The Anita Kerr Singers and the great Owen Bradley, the producer and the engineer, were all people that I loved and had a wonderful relationship with. To hear their talent after all these many years is wonderful."
Lee was only 15 when she recorded "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." Born in Atlanta, Ga., in 1944, she got her big break on country music Red Foley's popular TV show, "Ozark Jubilee," in February 1956. Lee stunned Foley when she sang "Jambalaya," and the crowd went wild, demanding more.
"I still get cold chills thinking about the first time I heard that voice," Foley remarked in a quote included in the biography portion of Lee's official website. "There I stood, after 26 years of supposedly learning how to conduct myself in front of an audience, with my mouth open two miles wide and a glassy stare in my eyes."
She was signed to Decca Records in May 1956. "Jambalaya" would become her first single, released in September, a few months before she would turn 12.
"I think when you're young, you don't realize the enormity of things," Lee mused in her Southern drawl. "I was just getting to do what I loved to do, and that was to sing."
Lee earned the nickname "Little Miss Dynamite" for her powerful voice and "explosive" stage act. There was a raspiness in her voice that made her sound much more mature than a young teen. She became a bona fide pop star, releasing one hit record after another - "Dynamite," "Sweet Nothin's," and "I'm Sorry," her first gold record and first number one song, in 1960. It would become her best-selling record and an international hit. "I'm Sorry" stayed in the Top 100 for six months in 1960. All of her Decca albums went gold.
"Just pick out anybody in the rock 'n roll field or the pop field or iconic country artists, and I've pretty much had the pleasure of working with all of them," she said.
She began to book international appearances in 1959, first in Paris, then in Germany, Italy and the UK, where she became very popular. The Beatles were Lee's opening act in an early '60s tour of the UK, before "Beatlemania" had begun.
"They were a bunch of great guys, great songwriters, great singers, funny guys very irreverent humor," Lee said. "I loved working with them. I knew they would be huge. It was just a matter of time."
She followed her European performances with a South American tour. Lee became a sensation in Japan in the mid-1960s. She has recorded songs in four different languages, including Japanese. She released a Christmas album in Japan and later a Japanese album entitled "Just for You, Something Nice."
In the 1970s, Lee went back to her country roots, releasing a string of country hits. Lee was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997, the youngest person to receive this honor.
She has many awards and accolades to her credit she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, is in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Georgia Hall of Fame, was the top female charted act of the 1960s, and charted in more categories any other female in the history of recorded music. Lee has also sold more records than any other woman in the history of recorded music.
Regarding her career, Lee feels her greatest accomplishment is her longevity.
"I'm still here," she said. "I can still work and am able to do what I love."
In her personal life, it's her family that matters most.
"My girls and my husband, with whom I'll celebrate 50 years of marriage this coming April and my grandkids. I'm most proud of those things."
Lee lives in Nashville, where she is involved in many charitable projects. She has worked with the American Cancer Society, the Kidney Foundation and the American Heart Association, among many others.
"I grew up so poor that I know what it is to need and want help," Lee related. "I feel that because God has so richly blessed me, anything that I can do to help others, that's what I want to do."
When Lee tours, she still adores singing "Jambalaya," "I'm Sorry" and Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree."
"I had a wonderful genius of a producer, Owen Bradley, and Owen helped me choose songs that have withstood the test of time, so I've never gotten tired of singing them," Lee said. "I feel they would have been hits for anybody that recorded them, I just feel blessed that I got them first."
Performances are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday at 1:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Tickets start at $20. For more information and tickets, visit www.senecaalleganycasino.com. The Seneca Allegany Casino and Hotel can be reached at 1-888-913-3377.
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