Melanie Safka, Woodstock Performer, Singer and Songwriter of 1970s Hit “Brand New Key” Dies at 76

Melanie Safka, the folk-pop singer and songwriter known as the artist Melanie, who performed at Woodstock in 1969 and topped the pop chart in the early 1970s with her hits “Brand New Key” and “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain),” died on Tuesday, January 23 at the age of 76. No cause of death was revealed.

“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,” wrote Safka’s three children Leilah, Jeordie, and Beau Jarred in a post on Facebook. “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.”

They continued, “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.”

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American singer and songwriter Melanie Safka, March 20, 1971. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Born February 3, 1947, in New York City Safka released her debut album Born to Be in 1968. A year later, Melanie became one of the three solo female acts to perform at the Woodstock festival in 1969. The experience inspired her first pop hit, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” since the audience lit candles during her performance. Featured on her third album Candles in the Rain, the song peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

That year, Safka also released a cover of The Rolling Stones‘ 1967 song “Ruby Tuesday,” which also appeared on the Candles in the Rain album and became a hit for Safka in the UK.

[RELATED: The Legacy of Woodstock: 9 Performances That Made History]

A year later on her album Gather Me, Melanie wrote “Brand New Key,” which became an international hit, reaching No. 1 on the Hot 100 and in several other countries. The song, which was sung from the point of view of a girl on roller skates trying to capture the attention of a boy, was often called “The Rollerskate Song.” 

“Songwriting wasn’t a formula,” said Safka in 2020. “It was before people had the term ‘the craft of songwriting.’ The ‘craft’ of songwriting. Really? Oh please. I wrote ‘Brand New Key’ in about five minutes. There was no craft. It’s called art, not craft. Craft is learning how to make pottery on a wheel. Songwriting isn’t a craft, it’s an art. It has nothing to do with how much time it takes.”

In 1989 Melanie also won an Emmy Award for writing the theme song for the TV series Beauty and the Beast, “The First Time I Loved Forever.”

Safka married her producer Peter Schekeryk in 1968, and the couple had three children Leilah, Jeordie, and Beau. Schekeryk died in 2010 at age 68.

Continuing to release new music throughout her career, in 2010 Safka, who resided in Nashville, Tennessee, released Ever Since You Never Heard of Me. Before her death, Safka was in the studio in early January 2024 working on her 32nd album, a collection of covers, Second Hand Smoke.

“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,” wrote Safka’s children, who asked everyone to like a candle in honor of their mother on the evening of Wednesday, January 24th, at 10 p.m. CST.

“Raise, raise them high, high up again,” they added. “Illuminate the darkness, and let us all be connected in remembrance of the extraordinary woman who was wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and friend to so very many people.”

Photo: Maddy Miller/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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