Brenda Lee, 78, Tops the Charts With ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ 65 Years After its Release

Brenda Lee

Brenda Lee — seen here in a 1960 portrait — holds the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 charts with her holiday classic 'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree,' 65 years after it was originally released. Photo: GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images

It’s time to crown a new Queen of Christmas!

After nipping at the heels of Mariah Carey’s holiday staple, All I Want For Christmas is You, for the last several holiday seasons, Brenda Lee finally sits atop the Billboard Hot 100 charts with her own holiday classic, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.

To say there was a strategic play for the festive throne may be a tad dramatic, but the song’s boost to the top of the charts 65 years after its release wasn’t entirely left to the Christmas cosmos either.

“I have wonderful people at my company that I’ve been with since I was 10 years old, and there’s youth involved, and they have worked so hard for me,” Lee, 78, told Variety of her label UMG Nashville’s promotion of the song this year. “And I have wonderful, wonderful fans that have been with me from the first time I opened my mouth to sing, and they’ve stayed with me, and everybody’s been loyal, and I’m more happy for them than I am for me. You can’t keep a good song down.”

Breaking the stranglehold Carey had on the top spot was no easy feat. Between the holiday seasons in 2019, 2020, 2021 and last year, Lee’s Rockin‘ spent a combined total of nine weeks at No. 2 behind All I Want for Christmas is You.

“It’s been a serious roadblock,” Lee said of the festive battle she’s had with the holiday track. “But you know what, if something’s gonna be in front of you, you want it to be good. And it was.”

Along with potentially snagging the unofficial “Queen of Christmas” title — which Carey unsuccessfully attempted to trademark in 2021Lee’s broken a number of records with her climb to the top.

Brenda Lee
Lee has been unofficially deemed the “Queen of Christmas” with her classic holiday song topping the charts, but the legendary singer says she’s just happy “to be a part of the music world.” Photo: Taylor Hill/WireImage/Getty Images


She’s now the oldest performer in history to top the Hot 100, moving ahead of legendary jazz artist Louis Armstrong, who was 62 when his song Hello, Dolly! topped the charts in 1964.

The song’s 65-year wait to hit No. 1 also shatters a record previously set by Mariah Carey’s Christmas entry, which first hit No. 1 in 2019, 25 years after its release. As well, she’s set a new bar for the longest gap between No. 1 hits, securing a top spot a little more than 63 years after her last No. 1 hit I’m Sorry.

Aside from Carey’s Christmas jam, which sits at No. 2, Lee faces stiff competition from other holiday tracks, including Bobby Helms’ Jingle Bell Rock (No. 4), Wham!’s Last Christmas (No. 5) and Burl Ives’ A Holly Jolly Christmas (No. 6).

Her label’s holiday push began in November with the release of a new music video to mark the song’s 65th anniversary, which also featured country singers Tanya Tucker and Trisha Yearwood and saw Lee perform the classic while decked out in a festive red gown.

Lee first recorded the song in 1958 at the age of 13, but it didn’t chart until 1960, peaking at No. 14.

“The producer cut the air way down in the studio,” Lee recalls of the song’s recording, in an interview with Billboard. “He had a big Christmas tree and everyone was there — the Anita Kerr Singers and the A-team [of Nashville studio musicians], as we called them. It was like a little touch of magic kind of sprinkled in, and it turned out to be magic. It really did.”

Years later, the song found popularity with a new generation when it was heavily featured in Home Alone, the 1991 Macaulay Culkin classic that remains a staple in holiday movie lineups to this day.

“That’s the catalyst that pushed it over that hill, as we’ll call it. It’s just been a blessing,” Lee said of the film.

Rockin’ was written by Johnny Marks, a Jewish American singer who penned a number of other festive songs, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and A Holly Jolly Christmas.

Lee, who remained close friends with Marks until his death in 1985, said she immediately thought of him when she recently received her five-times platinum award from her record label for the Christmas tune.

“He was the sweetest man, and he wrote so many Christmas standards. We got to be real good friends,” she told Variety. “He’d call me every day, just about. I’d say, ‘Johnny, you’re Jewish. You don’t even believe in Christmas!’ And he’d start laughing and laughing. He said, ‘Well, I do now.'”

As for snatching the Christmas crown from Carey, the legendary singer isn’t too concerned about the regal title.

“I don’t worry about that. I just want to be a part of the music world. I want to have good songs and want to do well,” she tells Variety. “If somebody else is No. 1, hey, good for you. Just let me be a part of it.”