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Singer Melanie to make a rare local appearance Sunday

Bill DeYoung



Melanie had the No. 1 song in the country, "Brand New Key," just about 50 years ago. Photo provided.

When Melanie performed at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House in February, 1974, she became the first folk/pop singer to take the stage at the venerable house of classics (the Who had done Tommy there in 1970, first introducing the Met to rock ‘n’ roll; Melanie was history’s second “other”).

Here’s what the New York Times said the following day:

Audience behavior somewhat marred the precedent‐setting appearance of the singer Melanie at the Metropolitan Opera House on Sunday. Melanie enthusiasts, fiercely loyal, have a collective habit of invading the stage during her performance. They do it every quietly, content to sit at her feet, raptly attentive and lighting candles (“Candles in the Rain” is one of Melanie’s biggest successes). Meanwhile Melanie, sitting like a camp counselor at a marshmallow cookout, will sing on  … Eventually, exasperated in a good natured way, Melanie shooed everybody off the stage, and said: “This is the first time we’ve had a little incident —I guess it’s a sign of the times.”

Fast-forward 48 years. “The event was kind of lost on me,” Melanie tells the Catalyst. “I was so busy, running around doing things, that status and statistics weren’t part of my reality of living. I was just doing what I was doing.”

Long before Madonna, America was on a first-name basis with Melanie (Safka), who appeared at Woodstock, gigged at Carnegie Hall (and the Met), and the Isle of Wight Festival and was the first woman in history to start an independent record label. She was, in the best sense of the phrase, an idealistic hippie chick. Billboard named her Top Female Vocalist in the World for 1972.

She’ll perform her first live concert in two years Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center. The pandemic lockdown kept her off the road and streaming virtual concerts from her Tennessee home (“I was so nervous the first one,” Melanie says, “I set up some stuffed animals across from me to be the audience”).

Most recently, she celebrated her 75t birthday with a virtual concert.

The Queens native made her bones in the Greenwich village folk clubs of the mid ‘60s, and released her first album in ’68.

A string of hits followed: “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” with the Edwin Hawkins Singers, “Peace Will Come,” “Beautiful People,” “Look What They’ve Dome to My Song, Ma” and the sing-songy “Brand New Key,” which topped the American pop charts in January, 1972.

Melanie, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin were the only solo female artists to play the 1969 Woodstock festival. Melanie was onstage at 1 a.m., in a rainstorm.

She insists she never gets tired of being asked about that historic three-day music fest.

“It’s a great memory,” Melanie says. “I have a slightly different perception, because I didn’t read many of the accounts. For me, the press didn’t cover what was important. The ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ were not the part of Woodstock I even slightly experienced.

“It was that sense that we had all come together for a higher purpose. That was my complete take, in a sentence.”

She started out as a shy young girl with big doe eyes, a guitar, a powerful alto singing voice and high ideals; she became a reluctant pop star. Eager to stay far away from New York or California, Melanie and her husband and business partner, record producer Peter Schekeryk, raised their three children in Florida.

At first, they lived on Estero Island, near Fort Myers. After a brief stint in Germany, the family came back and settled in Clearwater in the early 1980s.

“It was another sleepy West Coast town,” she explains. “It wasn’t Miami. I liked the ‘old Florida’ vibe. I was looking for the perfect place to raise my kids, like Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood or something.

“I just kept looking, and basically I never really found it, but while I was waiting I was in Florida. We found a house in Safety Harbor, and we moved there pretty much full-time.”

The Schekeryk children – daughters Leilah and Jeordie and son Beau Jarred – spent their formative years in Safety Harbor.

The road continues on – Peter Schekeryk died in 2010, and these days Melanie and Beau Jarred share a home near Nashville. “My one daughter lives a few miles down the road, and my other daughter became a cowgirl – she lives in Arizona.’”

She continued to record, and in 1989 she won an Emmy Award for writing the lyrics to “The First Time I Loved Forever” the theme song From TV’s Beauty and The Beast.

Still, Melanie wonders about the career momentum that seemed to slip away after “Brand New Key.” Was it her declaration of independence that did it? She believes that leaving her major label home and launching her own upstart, Neighborhood Records, all but got her blacklisted.

“I had made too many enemies in high places,” she says. “Especially, opening that label was a real smack in the face to a lot of people in the music industry. I was such an introvert that I wasn’t handling the diplomacy of it at all. That got me in trouble, for sure.

“I didn’t slow down. I was buried alive.”

All ticket information is here.











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