Researching the liner notes I was writing for a Brenda Lee album, I came across an anecdote that illustrates how things, seemingly unrelated, can be closely connected; sometimes with a simple, albeit unlikely, connection. Like this story, which takes from American folklore to a British hit record, then into an even bigger, worldwide hit.
The idea of “jumping the broomstick” as a euphemism for getting married dates back at least to the slavery era. Prohibited (according to at least one account) of engaging in Christian wedding ceremonies, the slaves devised their own rituals, one of which involved jumping over a broomstick.
How this wound up as a song recorded by Brenda Lee that became a hit in Europe, if not the United States, is by this point anybody’s guess. “I probably didn’t know what it meant,” Brenda allows, “just that it had a great rhythm and was fun to sing.”
Let’s Jump The Broomstick was a hit in the UK; well enough known when the Beatles – who had opened for Brenda on tour – appeared on the October 4, 1963 episode of “Ready, Steady, Go,” four girls mimed Brenda’s recording in a contest. Paul McCartney declared thirteen year old Melanie Coe the winner.
Four years after the television appearance, Melanie, pregnant out of wedlock and afraid of her parents’ probable reaction, bolted from her well-to-do family’s house one afternoon with a croupier – not the baby’s father, incidentally. Unaware of the circumstances of her disappearance, her parents launched a search, the incident becoming front-page news (she was located after a week, and returned home).
“As a 17-year-old,” she later explained, “I had everything money could buy – diamonds, furs, a car – but my father and mother never once told me they loved me.”
Melanie’s story, with some artistic license, was immortalized in song by McCartney as She’s Leaving Home.