Melanie's Family Asks Fans to Light a Candle

Singer of 'Lay Down' and 'Brand New Key' was a breakout star at Woodstock
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 24, 2024 7:40 PM CST
Woodstock Singer Had Hits With 'Lay Down,' 'Brand New Key'
Melanie performs in Bethel, New York, in 1998.   (AP Photo/Ken Bizzigotti, File)

Melanie, a folk singer who performed at Woodstock in 1969—solo and petrified—before having major pop hits with "Brand New Key" and "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)," has died. The singer whose full name was Melanie Safka was 76. "She was one of the most talented, strong and passionate women of the era," her family said in a statement, "and every word she wrote, every note she sang reflected that." In a message to the singer's fans, Variety reports, her children asked that, at 10pm Central time on Wednesday, "each of you lights a candle in honor of Melanie."

She was a regular in the New York folk clubs, per the New York Times, but unknown nationally when she was helicoptered in to take the stage with her guitar at the Woodstock Festival in upstate New York. She was nervous from the start about performing before hundreds of thousands of people who also were seeing Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, and the Who. She was 22, one of three women scheduled to perform solo at the festival. "The terror kept building in me," she later told the AP. When the weather changed, she expected the event to be called off. "It's raining, I'm free, I'll go back to life as it was," Melanie thought to herself. "Maybe I will be an archaeologist; maybe I will join the Peace Corps. That's when they said, 'You're next.'" She emerged as one of the surprise stars of Woodstock.

Seeing people at Woodstock light candles as it rained inspired her first pop hit, "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)," a gospel-flavored song recorded with the Edwin Hawkins Singers. Others hits included "What Have They Done to My Song, Ma"—which she reprised in a duet with Miley Cyrus in 2015—and "Peace Will Come," per the Hollywood Reporter. She wrote "Brand New Key" in 15 minutes. "I thought it was cute, a kind of old '30s tune," she said. But while some listeners heard a children's tune, others heard sexual innuendo-packed lyrics, per Variety. "I guess a key and a lock have always been Freudian symbols," Melanie said, "and pretty obvious ones at that." She worked on her 32nd album in the studio earlier this month, her label said. (More obituary stories.)

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