Brenda Lee will return as host for the 39th annual Sunday Mornin’ Church at the Grand Ole Opry this Sunday, June 9, 2019. Sunday Mornin’ Country promises to be the best ticket in town, blending top Country artists and your favorite Gospel music together for a time of celebration and inspiration along with great entertainment for the whole family. Again this year, the show will be hosted by the legendary, Country Music and Rock -n- Roll Hall of Fame member, Brenda Lee. Sunday Mornin’ Country is an event you won’t want to miss. Tickets are available here.
To celebrate Lee returning as host, we sat down to chat with her last week in Nashville.
Brenda Lee has been a household name for more than five decades, transcending genres to join the hall of fames for Rock, Pop, Country, and Rockabilly. With nearly 50 hits to break the Hot 100 Billboard charts and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award under her belt, one might think there aren’t many milestones left for Lee to meet. A performer through and through, Lee mentioned as we chatted last week in Nashville that she feels blessed just to be on the stage, and that each time feels as exciting and nerve racking as the last. I called Brenda to chat about Sunday Mornin’ Church. What we talked about in addition was Elvis, Gospel, stage fright, and a lifetime of memories in the spotlight.
Born Brenda Mae Tarpley on December 11, 1944, in Atlanta, Georgia, Lee has been a performer since she could walk and talk. Born to a family in poverty, the Tarpley’s moved between Atlanta and Augusta while she was a child, often relocating for her father’s work, and one of her earliest memories of the music industry was realizing her voice could make her money and she could help support her family. When asked what led her to music, Lee remarked, “I don’t know that I chose music as a career. I would, had I been older, but I don’t think anyone can choose anything at the age of three. I started appearing in public when I was three and as I grew older I became more intellectually aware of my family circumstance. By that, I mean we teetered on poverty for a long time. I always think of this as a God thing, but I remember having done a show while I was still very young and getting paid twenty dollars for it. I saw that exchange of money and it clicked for me. My family needed money. I love to sing and I could make money doing it. That’s really how music as a business decision in my life started. There’s no lack of love for music, though. I have always done it because I love it.”
With her outgoing personality and impeccable vocal talent, it did not take long for Lee to advance from singing on the local street corner for candy and coins to claiming victory at local talent contests. Lee was only six when she won her first singing contest, which landed her a live spot on an Atlanta radio show, Starmakers Revue. By the time Lee was ten her father had passed away and her singing career had made her the primary breadwinner for the family, supporting herself, mother, and siblings by singing at events and on local television and radio shows. Her early tenure includes “TV Ranch” on WAGA-TV in Atlanta, and WNOP in Cincinnati, after her family relocated with the marriage of her mother to Buell “Jay” Rainwater, and The Peach Blossom Special on WJAT-AM after they moved back to Georgia. Lee was not unlike many young women at the time making a living on local variety and radio shows, including singer/songwriters Dee Moeller, Jeannie Seely, and of course, Dolly Parton.
By the age of twelve, Lee had found herself thrust into the spotlight and rubbing elbows with Patsy Cline and other superstars like Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, and The Beatles. A chance meeting with Red Foley after she’d turned down a paycheck to appear on a Swainsboro radio station to see the performer in a tour of his ABC-TV Program Ozark Jubliee led to an immediate performance on the episode she’d gone to watch. By 1956, two months after her Jubilee debut, Lee signed with Decca Records and by 1957 she’d had her first crossover hit on the pop and country charts, “One Step at a Time”, written by Hugh Ashley. Her next hit, “Dynamite”, led to her lifelong nick name, Little Miss Dynamite.
While child stardom can be a struggle for many, Lee took her newfound fame in stride, knowing she was on the right path for the career she was absolutely meant to have. “I never got too far into the business side of music, and I think that saved me in many ways. I just wanted to sing and support my family, and I was so young when it all started. I met Patsy Cline when I was twelve years old and she became one of my closest and dearest friends. We did shows together. I was also a child so people didn’t include me in a lot of decisions, but I was respected for my musical acumen, so I don’t feel like I experienced a lot of the hurdles that many child actors and singers have today. This was just my path; I loved music, I love music, and I’ve always been fascinated by it. This is an industry I absolutely love. I am in awe of all of these people who are in it, making the noise. I’ve always wanted to meet them, talk to them, and learn from them. That thirst has never, ever left me. Now I look back and I’m just so thankful. I was always surrounded by the best of the best. I had the most marvelous producer in Owen Bradley, the most marvelous musicians- truly the A team, the best sound engineers, the most amazing songwriters. I didn’t get into the hall of fames I’m in alone, I had a whole team with me. I’ve met Hank Williams and Judy Garland and everyone inbetween and I feel so blessed by that.”
When asked how she navigated growing up in the business, Lee responded with the spunk she’s so famous for. “I’ve always been myself,” she remarked matter-of-factly, “I think that’s been my saving grace. If I had to be somebody other than me, well, that’s too hard, baby; being yourself is hard, much less trying to be somebody you’re not. So, thank goodness, the Lord just said hey, you’re youre. You’re short, and you’re the girl next door. I’m going to give you this gift of a voice and I hope you treasure it and take it as far as you can go with it. And that’s what I’ve done, and what I think everyone should do. And even after all these years, I am still joyous and jittery about being on stage. That has never gotten old for me; it is always alluring, it is always mysterious, and it is always nail biting because it’s always a new audience! You never know if they’re going to love you, and then you think, well they must like me because otherwise they wouldn’t be here. It took me a long time to come to that realization, though, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing for anyone in any profession to have just a touch of nervousness. It’s the nervousness that keeps you doing a good job.”
Today Brenda Lee still makes several appearances per year, including acting as host for Sunday Mornin’ Church, a truly unique and inspiring event for the whole family. For 39 years country artists have come together to share their hearts and favorite Gospel songs. This Sunday, June 9th, on the Grand Ole Opry stage, will be no exception. “Sunday Mornin’ Church is one of my most favorite things. It’s so special; we have the most wonderful people come out to sing the most glorious music. Some artists are well known and some aren’t, and everyone comes together to make this beautiful music and come together in fellowship. We have this rich, diverse audience every year, and we have the most wonderful volunteers. The people behind the scenes don’t get paid to put this show on. They do it strictly for their love of the music. The entire event is the wonderful act of love, and I just am so glad I get to be a part of it.”
This year the guest list for Sunday Mornin’ Church includes The Country Chorale, Linda Grimes & Keith Ital, Holly Watson, Tim Atwood, Cowboy Joe & The Baboks, Ashton Shepherd, Irene Mandrell, Jeannie Seely, and more. New this year, Sunday Mornin’ Country will be featuring “A Soldier’s Child” and a portion of the net ticket sales will go to A Soldier’s Child.The (ASC) Foundation serves Gold Star Children of fallen servicemen and women from all U.S. military branches. ASC acknowledges all deaths during active duty and any deaths post military service, due to service related injuries or illnesses. This includes suicides from PTSD related deaths. ASC offers Love to the child left behind, Honor for the memory of the fallen and a Hope for the children to live a courageous life with yearly birthday celebrations, summer camps, mentorship programs, and facilitating secondary/college scholarships.
Keep current with Sunday Mornin’ Country on the Music City Christian Fellowship website and stay in touch on social media platform Facebook. Stay in touch with Brenda Lee on her website – coming soon.