Brenda Lee has had such an interesting life that I wonder if a whole Legends of Rock & Roll book could be written about her. Brenda was fifteen at the time she had this hit and she already had a lifetime of experience behind her. They call her “Little Miss Dynamite” because of her personality and her height which is just under 5 feet at 4 foot 9 inches.
Brenda was born Brenda Mae Tarpley in 1944 in Atlanta, Georgia. Her family knew she could sing when she was just three years old. They started entering her in talent contests, first at school and then around the state. At age six, she won a singing contest sponsored by her local elementary school. Her family was poor and did what they could to make ends meet. When her father died in 1953, Brenda was about nine and suddenly was taking over support of the entire family as her singing started making money.
She worked on a country music show called “TV Ranch” which aired on WAGA-TV in Atlanta and that was probably her first paying job. She was ten years old.Her big break came when she got a chance to sing for Red Foley, a pretty famous country singer in the Fifties. She sang “Jambalaya” before one of his shows, but with a full audience and Foley was dumbfounded. He said he had never heard a voice like that. The audience stood and cheered. Brenda was on her way.
“I’m Sorry” was written by Dub Allbritten and Ronnie Sell. By 1960, Brenda was recording on the Decca label and when she recorded “I’m Sorry” she was fifteen. Decca thought she was too young to be singing love songs like that and so held the record back for six months or so, before reluctantly releasing it. It was meant to be the flip side of “That’s All You Gotta Do.” “That’s All You Gotta Do” was a hit in its own right, peaking at number six on the pop charts. But “I’m Sorry” was the monster.
“I’m Sorry debuted on the pop charts on June 6, 1960 and spent three weeks at number one. We’ll find out more about Brenda Lee later in 1960 when we discuss her second number one song “I Want To Be Wanted.”
I was surprised to find that there are very few videos of “I’m Sorry” on YouTube. Here is one of the better ones, even though they mess up the ending of the video.