Melanie





Melanie Safka was born to Fred and Polly Safka in Astoria, Queens, New York on February 3rd 1947. Her mother was a Jazz singer and Melanie grew up with a great interest for music, making her first public appearance on a radio show at the age of four. She made her first recording, "Gimme A Little Kiss", sung a la Shirley Temple, at age five. Throughout her childhood she taught herself how to play the guitar and started to write songs and poetry.

While attending the New York Academy Of Fine Arts, Melanie began to sing in Greenwich Village clubs. She was also interested in acting and played major professional roles in productions of Alice In Wonderland and The Glass Menagerie. In 1967, while hoping for an audition for a part in Dark Side Of The Moon, she stumbled into the wrong office. An executive lurking behind a large cigar noticed she was toting a guitar and asked if she could sing. Melanie went home with a recording contract in her handbag. She recorded her first single, "Beautiful People" for Columbia Records later that year. Her relationship with the record company was short-lived, however, and after one more failed single, she left the label.

In 1969 she chanced to meet producer Peter Schekeryk and after a hastily arranged audition, he took charge of her career. Her first album, "Born to Be" was recorded and released by Buddah Records later that same year. Since her flower-power image was all the rage, Melanie was lucky enough to be booked at the Woodstock Music & Art Festival in Bethel, New York on August 16th. During her performance in the pouring rain, the audience lit candles, which would later become a tradition at her performances. Her song "Birthday of the Sun" was later released on the "Woodstock 2" album, and twenty years later it was released on video as part of Woodstock: The Lost Performances, alongside the work of Janis Joplin, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and The Who.

Soon afterward she cut her second album, "Affectionately Melanie", which did slightly better than her first, however, she was now gaining attention for her songwriting, as "What Have They Done To My Song Ma" became a hit for The New Seekers. Her commercial breakthrough came eleven months after Woodstock when she released the song "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)", recorded with the Edwin Hawkins Singers. The song, written as a tribute to the audience at Woodstock and displaying the feel of a Gospel hymn, rose to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while the accompanying LP, entitled "Candles in the Rain", reached the Top 20.

In 1970, she issued a plaintive version of the Rolling Stones' "Ruby Tuesday", which did nothing in the U.S. but reached #6 in the U.K. A second release, "Peace Will Come (According To Plan)", managed to climb to #32 in America that Fall. In January of 1971, Melanie released her own version of "What Have They Done to My Song, Ma," which climbed to #39 in Britain, where she was emerging as a major star. In March, however, her new release, "The Good Book", peaked on the U.S. charts at just #80, despite the presence of several impressive tracks, among them a hauntingly beautiful cover of Phil Ochs' prophetic, doom-laden self-eulogy, "Chords of Fame".

At around this time, Melanie rebelled against her contract with Buddah, which required her to supply albums more or less on demand. She'd had four LPs released in two years and wanted more control over her work and career. With help from Peter Schekeryk, whom she had married, she organized her own label, Neighborhood Records, during the Summer of 1971. Her first subsequent single, "Brand New Key" hit #1 on the Hot 100 while on its way to becoming a million seller, staying on the charts for three months. In the U.K. the song peaked at #4 during a seven week chart run. The lyrics contained not-so-subtle sexual undertones and became a kind of "in" dirty joke in some circles. The record was even censored on some radio stations, but it also made Melanie one of the top-selling artists of the year. The accompanying album, "Gather Me", reached #15 in the U.S., earning a Gold record in the process. This huge success prompted her former label, Buddah, to release "Garden in the City", which consisted of previously unreleased out takes. Still, the LP managed to reach #19 in the U.S. At the same time that "Gather Me" spawned the single "Ring The Living Bell", Buddah also decided to capitalize more directly on Melanie's catalog and issued "The Nickel Song". The presence of two singles in release simultaneously from two different labels and distributors, each competing for radio play and listener dollars, damaged both records, and neither did well. "Ring The Living Bell" topped out at #31 and "The Nickel Song" stalled at #35.

Her next new album on Neighborhood Records, "Stoneground Words", stalled at #70 late in 1972. In June of 1973, her double concert album, "Live at Carnegie Hall", recorded the previous year, failed to make the Top 100. A single release called "Bitter Bad" could only rise to #36 in America. By this time, Melanie had withdrawn from the stage and was devoting her time to more personal and domestic concerns, having the first of three children. She re-emerged in 1974 for a short series of concerts, but her new album of that period, "Madruguda", barely made it onto the charts, and her subsequent two LPs, "As I See It Now" and "Sunset and Other Beginnings", released in 1975, sold poorly. Neighborhood Records closed down. In 1976, "Photograph" was released on Atlantic Records, but by now, the flower-power image was yesterdays news. A follow-up, "Photogenic", also failed to chart, and her last album for the next five years, "Ballroom Streets", appeared on the Tomato label in 1977.

In 1982, Melanie recorded a comeback album, "Arabesque", for RCA. A year later, her single "Every Breath of the Way" found the middle of the British charts and led to a series of concerts in England. Neighborhood Records was soon reactivated, just long enough for Melanie to release one last album, "Seventh Wave". At the end of the 1980s, she re-emerged once again with her theme music for the popular television series Beauty And The Beast. By that time, Woodstock nostalgia was beginning to be stoked by the media and concert promoters and Melanie appeared at one of the 20th anniversary events. She continued to periodically perform at clubs in the United States and larger festivals in Europe, where her association with the 1960s made her a major draw, and every so often released an album of new songs or re-recordings of her classic numbers.

In 1993, Melanie released a double CD called "Silver Anniversary Unplugged", to celebrate her twenty-five year recording career. As the new century came in, she had found a renewed interest in writing and performing and in September, 2003, issued a new CD titled "Crazy Love", followed by "Moments From My Life" (2003), and "Paled By Dimmer Light" (2004). In early 2005, most of Melanie's back-catalogue was re-released on the internet-only music label ItsAboutMusic.com. After a series of disagreements, the relationship between Melanie and the label was severed. In 2007 Melanie appeared at the Meltdown Festival at the Royal Festival Hall in London, and her sold-out performance received critical acclaim. The concert was filmed for a DVD entitled "Melanie: For One Night Only", which was released in October of '07. January 1st, 2010 brought an eleven song collection called "Ever Since You Never Heard Of Me" from Possum Records.

In 2012, Melanie headlined at the 15th annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, along with Arlo Guthrie and Judy Collins. In October of that same year, she collaborated with John Haldoupis of Blackfriars Theatre in Rochester, New York, to create an original musical about her love story with her late husband, Peter. Melanie And The Record Man made its debut on October 19th and ran until October 28th. The musical, conceived and designed by Haldoupis, features the music of Melanie and tells the story of her meeting Peter, falling in love, and working together to produce her music. Melanie performed during the musical and was also the narrator. In June 2014, she toured Australia for the first time in thirty-seven years. In April 2015, Melanie was inducted into Red Bank Regional's Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame. In November, 2015 she received the Sandy Hosey Lifetime Achievement Award at the Artists Music Guild's AMG Heritage Awards in Monroe, North Carolina. For 2017, her website showed a limited number of personal appearances in the United States.

For more, be sure to read Gary James' interview with Melanie Safka





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