Melanie, Singer Who Topped Charts With Hit ‘Brand New Key,’ Dies At 76

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Melanie, Singer At Woodstock Who Topped Charts With Hit ‘Brand New Key,’ Dies At 76Melanie, Singer At Woodstock Who Topped Charts With Hit ‘Brand New Key,’ Dies At 76

  • Folk singer Melanie dies at 76.
  • No cause of death has been disclosed.
  • She was best known for hits like “Brand New Key” and “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)”

 

It has been reported that folk singer Melanie, who played at Woodstock ’69 and topped the charts with songs like “Brand New Key,” has died at age 76. The announcement of her passing was made by her PR agency, Glass Onyon PR.

Details regarding the cause of her death were not immediately disclosed. Melanie, whose full name is Melanie Safka, had been active in the music scene just earlier this month, working on her latest project, Second Hand Smoke, a cover album set to be released under the Cleopatra label. This album was to be her 32nd, as confirmed by the label.

Remembering the legacy of Melanie

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Flickr | Jessica Watkins DeWinter

Melanie’s three children, Leilah, Jeordie, and Beau Jarred, shared their emotions on Facebook. Their message read: “We are heartbroken, but want to thank each and every one of you for the affection you have for our Mother, and to tell you that she loved all of you so much! She was one of the most talented, strong and passionate women of the era and every word she wrote, every note she sang reflected that. Our world is much dimmer, the colors of a dreary, rainy Tennessee pale with her absence today, but we know that she is still here, smiling down on all of us, on all of you, from the stars.”

Melanie’s children have made a heartfelt request. They ask that on the night of January 24th, at 10 p.m. Central Time, everyone light a candle in tribute to Melanie. Their message encourages, “Raise, raise them high, high up again. Illuminate the darkness, and let us all be connected in remembrance of the extraordinary woman who was a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and a friend to so many.”

Melanie achieved her first major success in pop music with the song “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain),” a gospel-influenced track created with the Edwin Hawkins Singers. This song climbed to number 6 on the Hot 100 chart in 1970. Following this, in 1971, she released “Brand New Key,” a song that became widely popular, interpreted by some as a children’s melody and by others as filled with sexual undertones. It soared to number 1 on the charts, marking her only other top 10 hit in the U.S. In the UK, she also gained significant recognition with her rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday.”

Speaking about “Brand New Key” in a 2021 interview with the Guardian, Melanie expressed mixed feelings: “It was the bane of my existence for a few years,” she admitted. The song, originally intended as a blues number, was accelerated to enhance its commercial appeal, despite being perceived by many as a novelty song due to its playful sound.

Despite her talents, Melanie often didn’t receive the recognition she deserved in the predominantly male folk-rock scene of her time, and her name was seldom mentioned alongside female contemporaries like Joni Mitchell. She shared her thoughts on this with the Guardian: “It wasn’t the age of smiling women,” she explained. “It had to be much more broody and I was way too cherubic. Men can be cute. Randy Newman can sing ‘Short People’ and that’s OK because he’s a guy, he’s got something to say. But a girl? How could she possibly have any social significance?”

Before she had any mainstream success, Melanie was relatively unknown when she was flown into the Woodstock Festival in 1969. She later recounted this experience in articles for Rolling Stone, once in 1989 and again for the festival’s milestone anniversaries in 2019.

Reflecting on her Woodstock performance, Melanie shared, “I had my first out-of-body experience. I was terrified,” she recalled. “I just left my body, going to a side, higher view. I watched myself walk onto the stage, sit down and sing a couple of lines. And when I felt it was safe, I came back. It started to rain right before I went on. Ravi Shankar had just finished up his performance, and the announcer said that if you lit candles, it would help to keep the rain away. By the time I finished my set, the whole hillside was a mass of little flickering lights. I guess that’s one of the reasons I came back to my body.”

Her songs had been finding new life in recent years as pop singer Miley Cyrus remastered the folk singer’s hit, “Look What They’ve Done To My Song, Ma” for a live performance with Melanie by her side. Check out that performance below.



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