NASHVILLE, Tenn. — “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” was originally released over 50 years ago (1958) and still is one of the most memorable holiday songs of the Christmas season. Johnny Marks penned the song and Brenda Lee first sang it in 1958.
It took a couple of years for the song to start getting a lot of play time. When Brenda Lee’s career took off, so did “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree.” Presently the song as sung by Brenda Lee is second only to Burl Ives “A Holly Jolly Christmas” on Billboard’s Top 100 Holiday Songs.
Amy Grant, Miley Cyrus, Toby Keith, Anne Murray, and many others have recorded the song through the years, but no one comes close to the original as sung by my “cater-corner aunt” Brenda Lee.
That is right, she is my cater-corner aunt. I’ve listened to my mother tell the story many times. She remembers Brenda Mae Tarpley (Brenda Lee) at family reunions in Warm Springs, Georgia.
The mill workers in Georgia were able to get free passes and such to stay at the resort in Warm Springs for a couple of days at a time. My mother’s family lived in Randolph County, Alabama and crossed the state line to go to these family get togethers. These were good Warm Springs memories for my mother.
She also had her share of scary Warm Springs memories having gone there as a child suffering from polio. She remembers seeing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt there on at least one occasion. President Roosevelt gave Warm Springs, Georgia national recognition in 1924, when he visited the town’s naturally heated mineral springs as treatment for his polio related paralysis.
President Roosevelt built the only home he ever owned in Warm Springs. It is known as the “Little White House.” He died there on April 12, 1945. It is still a tourist attraction and is about quarter mile south of town.
My mother has always told us that Brenda Lee was her cousin. Mapping it out, it seems that my mother’s great grandmother was a sister to Brenda Lee’s great grandmother or something close to that. Cater-corner aunt sounds good to me. It’s just nice to be related to her in a roundabout cater-corner way.
Brenda was born on December 11, 1944 in the charity ward of Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. Her stage name was born in 1955 when she appeared on the Peach Blossom Special on WJAT television in Georgia. The show’s producer thought that Tarpley was too difficult to remember and suggested shortening it to just “Lee.”
The rest is history. Brenda Lee has traveled the world and recorded songs in different languages. She has sold over 100 million records, more than any other woman in the history of recorded music.
She has a list of 29 Gold Records including Jambalaya, Sweet Nothins, I’m Sorry, Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree and Jingle Bell Rock. “I’m Sorry” has sold in excess of 15 million copies worldwide and “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” more than 7 million.
Brenda Lee received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2009 Grammy Awards. In 2002, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame making her the only woman in the Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Rockabilly Halls of Fame.
Mama, now the world knows that Brenda Lee is your cousin and my cater-corner aunt.
BN Heard’s “Cranks My Tractor” column now appears in newspapers throughout the southeast. If you’d like to see it in your local paper, let him (and them) know.
I will sign off from this B’n heard column, the way I sign off from each story on my “CMT” Website.
Tell 27 people you love them today; something good will happen.
I’m BN Heard and I like semicolons, dogs and being related to famous people in “cater-corner” ways.
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