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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

December 11, 1944

It's Day #11 on “The Pop Culture Addict's Advent Calendar”, and since it's Tuesday, we're going to be featuring a Tuesday Timeline style!

After all, it wouldn't be a very good advent calendar if every entry within had nothing to do with the holiday season, would it?

Fortunately, for December 11, the topic selection was one of the easiest decisions that I have ever made, as there was one subject that stood out...mainly because it was the only Christmas themed topic that I could find.

As always, we'll talk about today's subject in great detail a little later on within this entry. But first, we have other things to cover.

Why don't we take a look at some famous faces celebrating their birthday two weeks before Christmas, shall we? Happy birthday to Liz Smith, Rita Moreno, Anne Heywood, Jim Harrison, Reg Livermore, David Gates (Bread), Donna Mills, Teri Garr, Lynda Day George, Bess Armstrong, Jermaine Jackson, Brad Bryant, Lani Brockman, Peter Bagge, Nikki Sixx (Motley Crue), Isabella Hofmann, Rachel Portman, Marco Pierre White, Dave King (Flogging Molly), Jon Brion, Michel Courtemanche, Justin Currie, Carolyn Waldo, Jay Bell, Gary Dourdan, Mo'Nique, DJ Yella, Sean Grande, Willie McGenest, Daniel Alfredsson, Mos Def, Lisa Ortiz, Ben Shephard, Sharif Abdul-Rahim, Roy Wood Jr, Rider Strong, Hamish Blake, Clifton Geathers, and Hailee Steinfeld.

And here are some of the big events that have happened on this date throughout history.

361 – Julian the Apostate enters Constantinople as sole Emperor of the Roman Empire

1282 – Near Builth Wells, South Wales, Llwelyn the Last, the last native Prince of Wales is killed

1789 – The University of North Carolina is chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly

1792 – King Louis XVI of France is put on trial for treason by the National Convention during the French Revolution

1816 – Indiana joins the United States as the nineteenth state

1868 – Brazilians defeat an army of Paraguayans during the Paraguayan War at the Battle of Avay

1905 – The Shuliavka Republic is established following a worker uprising in Kiev, Ukraine

1907 – A fire destroys the New Zealand Parliamentary Buildings

1917 – British General Edmund Allenby declares martial law in Jerusalem

1920 – British forces burn and loot homes and businesses in Cork City during the Irish War of Independence

1925 – Roman Catholic papal encyclical Quas Primus introduces the Feast of Christ the King

1934 – The co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, takes his last drink and enters treatment for the last time

1937 – Italy leaves the League of Nations during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War

1941 – Germany and Italy officially declare war on the United States four days after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Americans declared war on Japan. The United States later declares war on the two nations shortly after their announcement

1946 – UNICEF is founded

1962 – Arthur Lucas becomes the last prisoner to be executed in Canada

1964 – Musician Sam Cooke is shot and killed by a motel manager in Los Angeles, at the age of 33 on the same day that actor Percy Kilbride (famous for playing Pa Kettle) passes away at the age of 76, ironically enough in the same city

1972 – Apollo 17 becomes the sixth and last Apollo mission to land on the surface of the moon

1980 – The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) is enacted by U.S. Congress

1981 – 900 civilians are killed in an anti-guerrilla campaign during the Salvadorian Civil War

1993 – A block of the Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia building, “The Highland Towers” collapses, killing 48 people

1994 – One one person is killed when a bomb explodes on Philippine Airlines Flight 434 – the captain is able to save everyone else on board by making an emergency landing

1997 – The Kyoto Protocol is opened for signature

2001 – China joins the World Trade Organization

2008 – Bernie Madoff is arrested and charged with fraud in connection with the Ponzi scheme he masterminded

And, in 2012, the Tuesday Timeline flashed back to the following date...

December 11, 1944.

Now, as it turns out, December 11, 1944 happens to be the birthdate of at least three famous faces. I already mentioned Teri Garr and Lynda Day George, who are both turning 68 today...but there's one other lady who is also turning 68 years old today. And this is a lady who started in the music business quite young. Younger than Justin Bieber...younger than Selena Gomez...younger than Britney Spears...

...though, not quite as young as the Olsen Twins.

The ironic thing about this lady is that one of her most famous songs is often played during the holiday season...and that it actually took a couple of years for the song to gain in popularity. I'll have more on that story as we proceed.

But first things first, why don't we wish a happy 68th birthday to singer Brenda Lee, the subject of today's Tuesday Timeline!

Born Brenda Mae Tarpley on December 11, 1944 in Atlanta, Georgia, her childhood was filled with its hardships. The family moved around a lot because of her father constantly going where the jobs were, and she grew up poor. She ended up sharing a bed with her two siblings, and lived in small, cramped houses without any running water or bathroom facilities. In order for her to forget about her domestic hardships, Brenda found solace in the Baptist Church, where she would sing at every Sunday service.

TRIVIA: Brenda's father, Ruben Tarpley, was a skilled Southpaw baseball pitcher, who spent eleven years in the U.S. Army playing baseball. This was despite a height of 5'7”, which was relatively short for a baseball player...apparently.

Brenda loved singing, but then again, she was sort of a musical prodigy. When Brenda was just toddler aged, she was completely drawn to the little battery-powered radio that her parents had in the kitchen, and when she was just two, she could already whistle some of the tunes that had played on air. Brenda also recalled instances in which she was three years old and her mother and sister would often have her performing inside a candy store, earning pieces of candy, or actual money from the customers of the store!

So, there you have it. I suppose you could say that she started performing at the ripe old age of three. Take that, Honey Boo Boo!

Brenda, with her voice and stage presence quickly got her noticed by the time she was six years old. At that age, she won an elementary school contest where the prize was an appearance on the Atlanta radio program Starmakers Revue.

When Brenda was eight years old, her father passed away, which inevitably made her the family's main breadwinner by the time she was ten. Talk about pressure! It didn't matter much to Brenda though, as she had a lot of fun singing at radio and television gigs. She also was a regular guest on the country music show “TV Ranch”, where she had to stand on a wooden crate in order to perform, due to her short stature. The family briefly moved to Cincinnati, Ohio when Brenda's mother remarried, but eventually moved back to Augusta, Georgia, where she performed on The Peach Blossom Special.

And then in 1955, Brenda Lee ended up getting her big break. It began with her turning down $30 to appear on a Swainsboro radio station in order for her to see Red Foley and a touring promotional unit for his show Ozark Jubilee. A DJ from Augusta had persuaded Foley to listen to the then 10-year-old Brenda sing before the show began. Foley agreed, and allowed her to perform the song “Jambalaya” on stage, unrehearsed. And as soon as Brenda started singing, he had the following to say about it.

I still get cold chills thinking about the first time I heard that voice. One foot started patting rhythm as though she was stomping out a prairie fire but not another muscle in that little body even as much as twitched. And when she did that trick of breaking her voice, it jarred me out of my trance enough to realize I'd forgotten to get off the stage. There I stood, after 26 years of supposedly learning how to conduct myself in front of an audience, with my mouth open two miles wide and a glassy stare in my eyes.”

The end result was that the audience gave her a standing ovation, and she ended up performing three more songs as an encore! Some time later, Brenda landed a recording contract, and the song that she sang for Foley that fateful day, “Jambalaya”, became her first single.

Now, it did take some time for Brenda Lee to make it big in the world of music. It wasn't really until she released 1960's “I'm Sorry”. That song was the first #1 hit for Brenda, and it even won her a Grammy nomination. It was also the first of nine consecutive Top 10 songs for Lee between 1960 and 1962...a record that remained intact until Madonna broke it in 1986. Lee's ability to adapt to several genres of music (including country, rockabilly, and pop) and her demeanor and charm helped her have thirty-seven singles charting on various charts, and helped her become inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and the Country Music Hall of Fame! A triple threat, that Brenda Lee.

And one of Brenda Lee's biggest hits is a holiday standard that has delighted audiences every December for five decades, and has been covered by a multitude of artists including Bill Haley & His Comets, The Partridge Family, Amy Grant, Cyndi Lauper, Hanson, Alabama, Miley Cyrus, Jessica Simpson, Toby Keith, and LeAnn Rimes.

ARTIST: Brenda Lee
SONG: Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree
ALBUM: N/A (was a single release)
DATE RELEASED: November 1958

If you can believe it, Brenda Lee was just thirteen years old when she recorded “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree”. Thirteen! Certainly doesn't sound like the voice of a teenager, does it?

This is a song that had a couple of guest musicians jamming alongside Lee, most notably Hank Garland's guitar playing, and Boots Randolph contributing the saxophone solo.

Although the single was initially released twice (once in 1958 and once in 1959), both times it was pressed, the general public was sort of lukewarm to it. It really wasn't until Brenda Lee scored her first #1 hit with “I'm Sorry” that the song began to take off. By Christmas 1960, the song was already climbing the charts, eventually peaking at #14 on Billboard. The song continued to chart on Billboard's Christmas Singles Charts for years after its release, peaking at the #3 spot in December 1965...a little over seven years after its initial release!

It is estimated that as of December 25, 2011, the song has been downloaded almost 700,000 times, making it the fourth most downloaded Christmas single in SoundScan history. The song also appears in several films, including a rather memorable scene in the 1990 film, “Home Alone”.

And isn't it a great song? It's a song all about family traditions like singing songs (or rocking) around a gigantic tree, enjoying pumpkin pie, and dancing merrily. It's one of those feel good songs that seems to put everyone in the holiday spirit, and to be honest with you, I have to say that her version is the best interpretation of this song.

These days, Brenda Lee doesn't really perform much. She still records the occasional album, but hasn't had a huge hit on the charts since the early 1980s. These days, she enjoys residing in the city of Nashville, Tennessee with her husband, Ronnie Shacklett. She released an autobiography in 2002 with the title Brenda Lee: Little Miss Dynamite, and she won a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 2009.

But then, what else is to be expected? She has been inducted as a legend in several genres of music, had one of the most successful Christmas singles ever released, and she is probably one of the only people who can claim to have The Beatles as one of her opening acts!

And she was born 68 years ago today, on December 11, 1944.

That wraps up another day of the advent calendar. It's triple twelve day tomorrow, and to celebrate it, we're going to take a look at a board game that up until 2004 had twelve items to remove from a very sick patient...

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