John Lennon called her “the greatest rock & roll voice of them all”. Dolly Parton said she’s “one of the greatest entertainers ever”. She’s inspired Elton John and Taylor Swift, the latter calling her “the singer who mastered the sound of heartbreak.” She toured with Jerry Lee Lewis and had the Beatles open for her. Her songs were favourites of Elvis and she influenced a generation of modern country music. As Rolling Stone puts it, Brenda Lee is a a “living link to the dawn of rock & roll”.
Here we look at the success and influence of Brenda Lee, and share how you can meet the icon herself on Founders Collection departures of our Southern Grace tour.
Read more: Exclusive travel encounters: Founder’s Collection
Brenda Lee, global superstar
Brenda Lee may not be as well known as artists like Elvis and Johnny Cash, but she was as popular as any of them in her prime. She’s sold more than 100 million records globally throughout her career. In the 1960s alone, Lee achieved 47 US Hot 100 singles – more than any artist besides Elvis, the Beatles and Ray Charles. She was the first woman to be inducted into both the Rock and Roll and Country Music Halls of Fame. She’s also a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and has won four Grammy awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
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Generation-spanning musical influence
Lee captivated the world with her melodic voice, commanding stage presence, and endless stream of hits. Biographers Mary Bufwack and Robert Oermann said Lee is a “a prodigy so gifted that melody is as natural as breath.”
Her musical influence is far-reaching. In 2013, Kanywe West sampled Lee’s legendary “uh-huh honey” on “Sweet Nothin’s” for his hit “Bound 2”. During the 2009 Grammy Awards, Taylor Swift covered “I’m Sorry”, Lee’s first number-one single. Released in 1960, it catapulted 15-year-old Lee into global acclaim. Swift also called Lee her idol in an essay for the 2017 Woman Walk the Line. Earlier that year, Alison Krauss covered two of Lee’s songs in her 2017 album Windy City.
And it’s just not Christmas until you hear Lee’s honeyed voice ringing out on her biggest hit “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”. It’s not only one of Lee’s most popular songs, it’s one of the best-selling Christmas singles of all time. There’s a remarkable catalogue of beloved hits that came before it, from the toe-tapping “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” to the country music ballad “Nobody Wins”.
Read more: Musical heritage from the South
Brenda Lee’s starpower through the decades
Lee may have been the superstar of the 1960s and 70s, but she hasn’t gone anywhere. She had multiple top ten hits and a top ten album in the 1980s, and recorded the “You’ll Never Know” duet with Willy DeVille in 1992. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” continued to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching #37 in December 2017 and #2 in December 2019, with over 37.1 million streams.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Lee has lived in Nashville for the last 60 years. Known as the “unofficial mayor” of Nashville, Lee is a legend here and a stalwart of the music scene. The locals have plenty of stories about running into Lee at the grocery store or the Cheesecake Factory, or spotting her in the audience at a concert. She hosts events, gives speeches, and inducts fellow members Country Music Hall of Fame. Lee even performs a few times a year.
Read more: Where to see great live music in Nashville
How you can meet Brenda Lee
Despite her global fame as a pop star, rocker girl, and country music legend – and her black book of equally iconic friends – Lee remains true to her roots. She’s warm and welcoming, and you’ll get to hear her stories as part of an exclusive experience on our Founder’s Collection departures on our Southern Grace tour. During your time in Nashville, you’ll meet with the remarkable Brenda Lee. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stand in the presence of music royalty and hear Brenda’s fascinating stories first-hand.
On the same trip, you’ll also meet harmonica legend Charlie McCoy, a Country Music Hall of Fame musician and Grammy-winning artist, who has collaborated with famous musicians like Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Loretta Lynn. Later, you’ll enjoy a rare recording session at Studio Be with a recording artist to learn the stories behind the hits. Top off your musical adventure in the Music City with a performance at the Grand Ole Opry.
A dream for any music lover, this is a truly exceptional trip that is sure to inspire.
For the opportunity to meet Brenda Lee for yourself, take a look at our Southern Grace luxury guided tour. To see more exclusive encounters that we have in store on our journeys, read about our Founder’s Collection. Spend time with the people who have shaped the history of the places you go. Meet European nobility, legendary locals and celebrated icons. Curated by our founder, the late Stanley Tollman, these are his friendships from across the globe brought to you through exclusive meet and greets.