The Christmas season has always been very special in the life of Brenda Lee. The only woman to be inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame, she tells Billboard that it’s been that way since an early age.
“It’s my favorite time of the year,” Lee exclaims. “Really, it always has been — even going back to being a child. It was such a great holiday. Family was — and is — very important to me, and that’s when all the families got together. It was the only time of the year that we got fruit and candy, due to our financial circumstances. I remember that we made all the ornaments, and Daddy whittled our toys, and it was just a wonderful time.”
The holidays have also been a crucial part of her legendary career, with many Yuletide recordings being huge fan favorites around the world. Her first Christmas recording ever was “Christy Christmas,” which was released in 1956. Not even 11 years old at the time, she has pleasant memories of the song — as well as the B-side almost six decades later.
“I’m Gonna Lasso Santa Claus’ was on the flip side,” she recalls. “Those songs bring back a lot of memories. I was 10 years old.”
Of course, Lee’s biggest song of the season remains “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” which was released in the holiday season of 1958. She admitted that the recording had several key ingredients that worked in its favor.
“That song has been such a blessing to me. I knew when I recorded it that it was special, but I had no idea just how special it would be. I’m just honored to have been able to record it, and to have had the musicians on it — Owen Bradley producing it and Johnny Marks writing it, all the way down to the Anita Kerr Singers. All of that went into making it the song that it was.”
More than three decades later, the song made an appearance in the classic film Home Alone, which opened up a new generation of fans, Lee says proudly.
On Dec. 9, the singer took to the stage at the Country Music Hall of Fame as part of their Holiday Concert series. The singer performed her signature Christmas song, along with such standards as “Jingle Bells” and “Joy to the World.” She also delighted the crowd with performances of her iconic pop hits like “I’m Sorry” and “Sweet Nothin’s.”
One might assume that Lee — a longtime Nashville resident — has given plenty of full concerts here before. However, Dec. 9 was her first admission show in Music City — ever. After over 50 years as a resident, why did she wait so long?
“Being from here, people see you here every day and get used to you, and you feel like they wouldn’t come or pay to see you. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they will,” she said before the show.
The concert benefits the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, of which she has been a member since 1997. She says it was a no-brainer once she was extended the invitation.
“It’s all for a good cause with the Hall of Fame. It’s a wonderful place. I’ve been on the board before, and love giving back. So, when they asked me to do it, the only answer I could give them was yes.”
What are some of the singers’ favorite Yuletide memories from those early days in Nashville? She didn’t miss a beat, recalling one of the city’s most celebrated traditions of the 1960s and ’70s.
“We used to have a department store in Nashville called Harvey’s, and they had a huge Nativity scene that was always set up at The Parthenon in Centennial Park. It was so huge and glorious, and such a tourist attraction. We would go to visit there every year.”
Her family Christmas celebrations these days are very much normal in tone and scope, she says.
“Usually, a lot of the entertainers will go caroling. We’ve done that for a lot of years. I do that also with my family, and we just have a ball. We’ll get around the piano and eat, and just have a ball together.”