Melanie Safka, known as Melanie, a singer who graced the stage at Woodstock in 1969 and topped the charts with hits like “Brand New Key” and “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” in the early 1970s, died on Tuesday at age 76. Her death was confirmed by her publicity firm, Glass Onyon PR.
The cause of death was not immediately disclosed. However, it was known that Melanie had been working on a new album of cover songs, titled “Second Hand Smoke,” for the Cleopatra label earlier this month. This would have been her 32nd album.
Her three children, Leilah, Jeordie, and Beau Jarred, expressed their grief on Facebook, thanking everyone for their love for their mother. They described her as one of the most talented, strong, and passionate women of her time, whose every word and note reflected her spirit. They asked everyone to light a candle at 10 p.m. CT on January 24, in honor of Melanie.
Melanie’s first major hit was “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain),” a gospel-infused collaboration with the Edwin Hawkins Singers that reached No. 6 on the Hot 100 in 1970. This was followed by “Brand New Key” in 1971, a song that reached No. 1 and was her only other top 10 hit in the U.S. The song, seen by some as a children’s tune and by others as laden with sexual innuendo, was also a top 10 hit in the UK with a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday.”
Melanie, born in Astoria, New York on February 3, 1947, and raised in Queens, initially studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. However, her interest in performing at the folk clubs of Greenwich Village led her to her ultimate career in music.
She was relatively unknown when she performed at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, before any of her songs had become hits. She wrote about her experience at the festival for Rolling Stone in 1989 and again in 2019, describing her first out-of-body experience due to her fear. She recalled how the hillside was filled with flickering lights from candles lit by the audience, which made her feel safe enough to return to her body and finish her set.
Melanie’s experience at Woodstock in 1969 served as the inspiration for her breakthrough hit, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).” Despite the popularity of “Brand New Key,” “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” remains one of her most beloved songs. The tradition of lighting candles at her concerts became so synonymous with her performances that they were eventually banned due to safety concerns from fire departments.
Melanie’s husband, Peter Schekeryk, who also served as her producer and manager, passed away in 2010. In recent years, she had been collaborating with her son Beau Jarred and daughters Leilah and Jeordie on various musical projects and performances.
Melanie achieved her greatest hits in the early ’70s with the Buddah label. In 1971, she left Buddah to establish her own label, becoming a trailblazer for independent artists. Recently, she signed with the Los Angeles-based Cleopatra label, which has been working on reissuing her entire catalog post-Buddah.
Earlier in January, Melanie recorded a cover of Morrissey’s “Ouija Board Ouija Board” for an upcoming tribute album. Morrissey was known to be a fan of Melanie and had covered her song “Some Say (I Got Devil).” She also recorded a cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” for her planned covers album, “Second Hand Smoke.” Other songs she recorded for the new album include Radiohead’s “Creep,” the Moody Blues’ “Nights In White Satin,” Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence,” and David Bowie’s “Everyone Says Hi.”
In a statement on Facebook, Melanie’s children announced plans for a celebration of life event for their mother. They invited all who wished to attend and celebrate Melanie’s life, stating that details would be announced once they were finalized.