Vee was born in Fargo, North Dakota, to Sydney Ronald Velline and Saima Cecilia Tapanila. His first single, “Suzie Baby,” was written by Vee with a nod to Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue” and recorded for the Minneapolis-based Soma Records in 1959; it drew enough attention and chart action to be purchased by Liberty Records, who signed him later that year. His followup single, a cover of Adam Faith’s UK number-one “What Do You Want?”, charted in the lower reaches of the Billboard pop chart in early 1960. His fourth release, a revival of the Clovers’ doo-wop ballad “Devil or Angel”, brought him into the big time with U.S. buyers. His next single, “Rubber Ball”, made him an international star.
Vee’s 1961 summer release “Take Good Care of My Baby” went to number one on the Billboard U.S. listings and number three in the UK Singles Chart. Known primarily as a performer of Brill Building pop material, he went on to record a string of international hits in the 1960s, including “Devil or Angel” (U.S. number six), “Rubber Ball” (1961, U.S. number six, Australia number one), “More Than I Can Say” (1961, U.K. number four), “Run to Him” (1961, U.S. number two), “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” (1963, U.S. number three), and “Come Back When You Grow Up” (U.S. number three). When Vee recorded “Come Back When You Grow Up” in 1967, he was joined by a band called the Strangers. He also recorded, in 1961, a version of the song “Lollipop”, originally by Ronald & Ruby, which also became a success.
Vee was also a pioneer in the music video genre, appearing in several musical films, as well as in the Scopitone series of early film-and-music jukebox recordings.
He received the North Dakota Roughrider Award in 1999.
He is mentioned in the film No Direction Home regarding his brief musical association with Bob Dylan and Dylan’s suggestion that he was “Bobby Vee” after Vee’s regional hit.
The Very Best of Bobby Vee, released by EMI/UK on May 12, 2008, charted in the UK top five. On January 17, 2011, EMI/UK released Rarities, a double-CD package with 61 tracks, many of which were previously unreleased. Others included were alternate takes and first-time stereo releases as well as tracks from the album Bobby Vee Live on Tour minus the “canned” audience.
On March 28, 2011, he became the 235th inductee into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. In 2014 he was inducted into the Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame.
On April 29, 2012, Vee announced on his website that a year prior he had been diagnosed with an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease and consequently would withdraw from the music business.
On October 24, 2016, Vee died in Rogers, Minnesota, from complications of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.