Etheridge at a ceremony to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in September 2011
|Melissa Lou Etheridge|
May 29, 1961 |
Leavenworth, Kansas, U.S.
Melissa Lou Etheridge (born May 29, 1961) is an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and activist. Her self-titled debut album Melissa Etheridge was released in 1988 and became an underground success. The album peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard 200, and its lead single, "Bring Me Some Water", garnered Etheridge her first Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female. In 1993, Etheridge won her first Grammy award for her single "Ain't It Heavy" from her third album, Never Enough. Later that year, she released what would become her mainstream breakthrough album, Yes I Am. Its tracks "I'm the Only One" and "Come to My Window" both reached the top 30 in the United States, and the latter earned Etheridge her second Grammy award. Yes I Am peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard 200, and spent 138 weeks on the chart, earning a RIAA certification of 6x Platinum, her largest to date.
In October 2004, Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent surgery and chemotherapy. At the 2005 Grammy Awards, she made a return to the stage and, although bald from chemotherapy, performed a tribute to Janis Joplin with the song "Piece of My Heart". Etheridge's performance was widely lauded, with India.Arie writing "I Am Not My Hair" about Etheridge. Later that year, Etheridge released her first compilation album, Greatest Hits: The Road Less Traveled. The album was a success, peaking at No. 14 on the Billboard 200, and going Gold almost immediately. Her latest studio album is Memphis Rock and Soul.
Etheridge is known for her mixture of "confessional lyrics, pop-based folk-rock, and raspy, smoky vocals." She has also been a gay and lesbian activist since her public coming out in January 1993. She has received fifteen Grammy Award nominations throughout her career, winning two, in 1993 and 1995. In 2007, she won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "I Need to Wake Up" from the film An Inconvenient Truth. In September 2011, Etheridge received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Etheridge was born in Leavenworth, Kansas, the younger of two girls of Elizabeth (Williamson), a computer consultant, and John Etheridge, an American Constitution teacher at Leavenworth High School. Her father was a high school psychology teacher, counselor and athletic director at her alma mater, Leavenworth High School. He died in August 1991. Her mother was a homemaker and a computer analyst and is now retired. She attended David Brewer School, which is still located at 17th and Osage Streets. She graduated in 1979 from Leavenworth High School (LHS) at 10th Avenue and Halderman. Etheridge was a member of the first "Power and Life" musical/dance group at LHS. Her childhood home was at 1902 Miami Street.
Etheridge's interest in music began early; she picked up her first guitar at 8. She began to play in all-men country music groups throughout her teenage years, until she moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music.
While at Berklee, Etheridge played the club circuit around Boston. After three semesters, Etheridge decided to drop out of Berklee and head to Los Angeles to attempt a career in music. Etheridge was discovered in a bar called Vermie's in Pasadena, CA. She had made some friends on a women's soccer team and those new friends came to see her play. One of the women was Karla Leopold, whose husband, Bill Leopold, was a manager in the music business. Karla convinced Bill to see her perform live. He was impressed, and has remained a pivotal part of Etheridge's career ever since. This, in addition to her gigs in lesbian bars around Los Angeles, led to her discovery by Island Records chief Chris Blackwell. She received a publishing deal to write songs for movies including the 1986 movie Weeds.
In 1985, prior to her signing, Etheridge sent her demo to Olivia Records, a lesbian record label, but was ultimately rejected. She saved the rejection letter, signed by "the women of Olivia", which was later featured in Intimate Portrait: Melissa Etheridge, the Lifetime Television documentary of her life.
After an unreleased first effort that was rejected by Island Records as being too polished and glossy, she completed her stripped-down self-titled debut in just four days. Her eponymous debut album Melissa Etheridge, released in 1988, was an underground hit, and the single, "Bring Me Some Water", a hit on radio, was nominated for a Grammy.
At the time of the album's release, it was not generally known that Etheridge was a lesbian. While on the road promoting the album, she paused in Memphis, Tennessee, to be interviewed for the syndicated radio program Pulsebeat--Voice of the Heartland, explaining the intensity of her music by saying: "People think I'm really sad--or really angry. But my songs are written about the conflicts I have...I have no anger toward anyone else." She invited the radio syndication producer to attend her concert that night. He did and was surprised to find himself one of the few men in attendance.
Etheridge followed up her first album's success by contributing background vocals to Don Henley's album The End of the Innocence. She went into the studio and recorded her second album Brave and Crazy which was released in 1989.
Brave and Crazy followed the same musical formula as her eponymous debut garnering a Grammy nomination. The album peaked at #22 on the Billboard charts (equal to her first album). Etheridge then went on the road, like one of her musical influences, Bruce Springsteen, and built a loyal fan base. Etheridge has covered his songs "Thunder Road" and "Born to Run" during live shows.
In 1992, Etheridge released her third album, Never Enough. Similar to her prior two albums, Never Enough didn't reach the top of the charts peaking at #21 but gave Etheridge her first Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female for her single "Ain't It Heavy". Never Enough was considered a more personal and mature album from Etheridge at that time. With rumors circulating around her sexuality (Etheridge was not out yet at this point), the album seemed to inadvertently address these rumors.
In 1992, Etheridge established a performing arts scholarship at Leavenworth High School in honor of her father. She said her father used to "spend his weekends driving me to Kansas City and all points around there so I could play in bands. I was underage so I couldn't have gone without him."
On September 21, 1993, after having come out publicly as a lesbian earlier in the year, Etheridge released Yes I Am. The album would become her mainstream breakthrough album. Co-produced with Hugh Padgham, Yes I Am spent 138 weeks on the Billboard 200 charts and peaked at #15 and scored mainstream hits "Come to My Window" and her only Billboard Top 10 single "I'm the Only One", which also hit #1 on Billboards Adult Contemporary chart. Sales-wise, Yes I Am earned a RIAA certification of 6 Platinum making it her biggest-selling album to date.
Etheridge earned her second Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female for her single "Come to My Window". She also garnered two additional nominations in the Best Rock Song category for "I'm the Only One" and "Come to My Window", losing to Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia".
In a visit to Leavenworth in November 1994, she performed a benefit concert for a new park to be built near the high school. A ball field at the park will be named after her father. While she was here, she also donated money to help refurbish the Performing Arts Center in Leavenworth at 401 Delaware.
Also in 1994, she was honored by VH-1 for her work with the AIDS organization L.A. Shanti. During the televised occasion, she highlighted the appearance with a performance of "I'm the Only One" and a duet with Sammy Hagar covering The Rolling Stones' song, "Honky Tonk Woman."
The success of Yes I Am helped increase sales of Etheridge's earlier albums. In 1995, Melissa Etheridge earned a RIAA certification of 2 Platinum, while Never Enough earned a RIAA certification of Platinum.
Etheridge's follow-up to Yes I Am was the moderately successful Your Little Secret. The album was not as well received by critics as Etheridge's prior recordings. Featuring a lead single of the same name, "Your Little Secret" is the highest charting album of Etheridge's career, having reached #6 on the Billboard album charts; however, the album spent only 41 weeks on the chart. The album produced two Top 40 singles "I Want to Come Over" (Billboard #22, RPM #1) and "Nowhere to Go" (Billboard #40) and earned a RIAA certification of 2 Platinum, less than "Yes I Am."
In 1996, Etheridge won an ASCAP Songwriter of the Year award. She also took a lengthy break from the music business to concentrate on her domestic arrangements. She also recorded "Sin Tener A Donde Ir (Nowhere to Go)" for the AIDS benefit album Silencio=Muerte: Red Hot Latin produced by the Red Hot Organization.
She appeared on Sesame Street, where she sang "Like The Way U Do", as she danced with a big red letter "U".
Etheridge returned to the music charts with the release of Breakdown in October 1999. Breakdown peaked at #12 on the Billboard charts and spent 18 weeks in the charts. Despite this, Breakdown was the only album of Etheridge's career to be nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Album (losing to Santana's Supernatural). In addition, her single "Angels Would Fall" was nominated in two categories: Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female (losing to Sheryl Crow) and Best Rock Song (losing to the Red Hot Chili Peppers) in 2000. A year later, another single from the album--"Enough of Me"--was nominated for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female (also losing to Sheryl Crow). The album earned a RIAA certification of Gold, but sold less copies than Etheridge's prior five albums.
The year 2001 saw the release of Skin, an album she described as "the closest I've ever come to recording a concept album. It has a beginning, middle and end. It's a journey." Skin garnered generally positive reviews with Metacritic scoring the album 73/100 from 9 reviews. Recorded after her breakup with partner Julie Cypher, Skin was described as "[a] harrowing, clearly autobiographical dissection of a decaying relationship." Despite positive reviews, Skin sold less than 500,000 copies. On the Billboard charts, it peaked at #9 but dropped out of the Top 200 after just 12 weeks. The single "I Want to Be in Love" was nominated for the Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female (losing to Lucinda Williams). The video clip of this song starred Jennifer Aniston.
In 2002, Etheridge released an autobiography entitled "The Truth Is: My Life in Love and Music."
Etheridge began 2004 with the release of her eighth album Lucky on February 10. Etheridge was now in a new relationship with actress Tammy Lynn Michaels whom she began dating in 2001. Lucky performed similarly to Skin, selling fewer than 500,000 copies, peaking on the Billboard charts at #15 and spending 13 weeks on the charts. It also garnered a Grammy nomination for Etheridge's cover of the Greenwheel song "Breathe" for the Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Solo (losing to Bruce Springsteen).
In October 2004, Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the 2005 Grammy Awards (the same ceremony for which "Breathe" was nominated), she made a return to the stage and, although bald from chemotherapy, performed a tribute to Janis Joplin with the song "Piece of My Heart". Etheridge's performance was lauded in song in India.Arie's "I Am Not My Hair".
On September 10, 2005, Etheridge participated in ReAct Now: Music & Relief, a telethon in support for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. ReAct Now, part of an ongoing effort by MTV, VH1, CMT, seeks to raise funds for the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and America's Second Harvest. Etheridge introduced a new song specially written for the occasion called "Four Days". The a cappella song included themes and images that were on the news during the aftermath of the hurricane. Other charities she supports include The Dream Foundation and Love Our Children USA.
On November 15, 2005, Etheridge appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno to perform her song "I Run for Life".
Etheridge wrote "I Need to Wake Up" for the film documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2006. The song was released only on the enhanced version of her greatest hits album, The Road Less Traveled.
On July 7, 2007, Etheridge performed at the Giants Stadium on the American leg of Live Earth. Etheridge performed the songs "Imagine That" and "What Happens Tomorrow" from The Awakening, her tenth album, released on September 25, 2007, as well as the song "I Need To Wake Up" before introducing Al Gore. On December 11, 2007, she performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, together with a variety of artists, a concert which was broadcast live to over 100 countries. In addition, she performed at the U.S. 2008 Democratic National Convention on August 27, 2008.
In July 2009, Etheridge announced through her website that she and John Shanks would begin recording her 11th studio album the following summer. This was the first time since 1999 Etheridge and Shanks were the only ones involved in the production of a project.
Etheridge was featured in UniGlobe Entertainment's breast cancer docudrama titled 1 a Minute released in 2010. The documentary is being made by actress Namrata Singh Gujral and will also feature breast cancer survivors Olivia Newton-John, Diahann Carroll, Namrata Singh Gujral, Mumtaz and Jaclyn Smith as well as William Baldwin, Daniel Baldwin and Priya Dutt. The feature is narrated by Kelly McGillis. The film will also star Brbara Mori, Lisa Ray, Deepak Chopra and Morgan Brittany.
Etheridge also held a private listening party hosted at Michele Clark 's Sunset Sessions in 2010. She debuted her new album Fearless Love at the event held at the Rancho Bernardo Inn where she did a question and answer and played an acoustic set of her new singles in front of convention attendees and about 50 listeners of host station KPRI/San Diego.
Etheridge played her first Pride event on Saturday, June 9, 2012 at Pittsburgh Pride's - Pride in the Street. Pride in the Street, made famous by the Queer as Folk series, is a block party that takes place on Liberty Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets.
As of June 2012, Etheridge announced on her radio show that her new CD, called 4th Street Feeling, was finished, and would be released on September 4, 2012. She began touring in support of 4th Street Feeling in October 2012.
Etheridge performed her new song "Uprising of Love" in the 2013-2014 New Year's Eve celebration in New York City's Times Square along with the rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine" before the ball drop. The single was released on iTunes on January 28, 2014.
On July 1, 2014 she released "Take My Number", the first single from her 13th studio album This Is M.E.. The cover art for the album is a mosaic that includes pictures submitted by fans. Melissa explains the album cover on her official website: "Because my fans are such a huge part of ME, and I wouldn't be ME without YOU, I took photos submitted by my fans and turned it into my album cover." The album was released on September 30, 2014.
On June 9, 2015 she released a live album titled: A Little Bit of Me: Live In L.A.. It was recorded at the closing show of the U.S. leg of her This Is M.E. Tour on December 12, 2014 at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles.
On September 1, 2016, she began working part-time at Andrean High School in Merrillville, IN.
Etheridge came out publicly as lesbian in January 1993 at the Triangle Ball, a gay celebration of President Bill Clinton's first inauguration. Etheridge supported Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign and since her coming out has been famous as a gay rights activist. She is also a committed advocate for environmental issues and in 2006, she toured the US and Canada using biodiesel.
Etheridge had a long-term partnership with Julie Cypher, and their relationship received coverage in The Advocate, when an interview with editor Judy Wieder done in Amsterdam, "The Great Dyke Hope," was released in July 1994. In it, Etheridge answered Wieder's questions about why the couple wanted to have children: "I think one of the many fears people have about homosexuality is around children. I think that the more gay parents raise good, strong, compassionate people, the better the world will be." During this partnership, Cypher gave birth to two children, Bailey Jean, born February 10, 1997, and Beckett, born November 1998, fathered by sperm donor David Crosby. In 2000, Cypher began to reconsider her sexuality and on September 19, 2000, Etheridge and Cypher announced they were separating. In 2001, Etheridge documented her breakup with Cypher and other experiences in her memoir.
In 2002, Etheridge began dating actress Tammy Lynn Michaels. The two had a commitment ceremony on September 20, 2003. In April 2006, Etheridge and Michaels announced that Michaels was pregnant with twins via an anonymous sperm donor. Michaels gave birth to a daughter, Johnnie Rose, and a son, Miller Steven, on October 17, 2006.
In October 2008, five months after the Supreme Court of California overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage, Etheridge announced that she and Michaels were planning to marry but were currently "trying to find the right time... to go down and do it". In November 2008, in response to the passing of California's Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage, Etheridge announced that she would not pay her state taxes as an act of civil disobedience. On April 15, 2010 Etheridge and Michaels announced they had separated. In May 2012 it was announced that their two-year child support battle had been settled.
In October 2004, Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy. In October 2005, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Etheridge appeared on Dateline NBC with Michaels to discuss her struggle with cancer. By the time of the interview, Etheridge's hair had grown back after being lost during chemotherapy. She said that her partner had been very supportive during her illness. Etheridge also discussed using medicinal marijuana while she was receiving the chemotherapy. She said that the drug improved her mood and increased her appetite. In a June 15, 2009 interview with Anderson Cooper, Etheridge mentioned that she still uses marijuana to lessen the effects of acid reflux or in extremely stressful situations. Marijuana is legal in the state of California.
Etheridge supported Barack Obama's decision to have Pastor Rick Warren speak at his 2009 Presidential inauguration, believing that he can sponsor dialogue to bridge the gap between gay and straight Christians. She stated in her column at The Huffington Post that "Sure, there are plenty of hateful people who will always hold on to their bigotry like a child to a blanket. But there are also good people out there, Christian and otherwise, that are beginning to listen."
In 2013, Etheridge called Angelina Jolie's choice to have a double mastectomy to avoid breast cancer a "fearful" and not "brave" choice. Etheridge told the Washington Blade in an interview that "my belief is that cancer comes from inside you and so much of it has to do with the environment of your body...It's the stress that will turn that gene on or not...I really encourage people to go a lot longer and further before coming to that conclusion." According to Andrea Geduld, the director of the Breast Health Resource Center at Mt. Sinai Hospital, she told KMBZ.com that Etheridge's comments were out of line and that she finds Etheridge's criticism of Jolie puzzling, given that Jolie's choice to have a double mastectomy couldn't have been an easy one, "we wouldn't criticize someone for wearing a seatbelt to reduce the risk of dying in an accident, so I'm not sure why we would criticize someone for having a mastectomy when we know it cuts their risk of getting cancer." Experts also caution that some of Etheridge's statements are not accurate.
In a 2013 interview with CNN after the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry, Etheridge stated that she planned to marry her partner Linda Wallem. The couple married on May 31, 2014 in San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, California, two days after they both turned 53.
Starting in 2014, Etheridge partnered with a California medical marijuana dispensary to make cannabis-infused wine. Etheridge and Greenway Compassionate Relief in Santa Cruz started small, making a few barrels of reds infused with CBD - THC's medical non-high inducing counterpart - that sold quickly. "The vineyards were afraid the white wines would turn green and that no one would want to drink a green wine," Etheridge said. Etheridge has since expanded her selection of No Label wine tinctures to include a Shiraz, a Grenache and eventually a Cabernet.
|1993||Herself||Best International Female||Nominated|
|1989||"Bring Me Some Water"||Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female||Nominated|
|1990||"Brave and Crazy"|
|1993||"Ain't It Heavy"||Won|
|1995||"Come to My Window|
|Best Rock Song||Nominated|
|"I'm the Only One"|
|2000||"Angels Would Fall"|
|Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female|
|Breakdown||Best Rock Album|
|2001||"Enough of Me"||Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female|
|2002||"I Want to Be in Love"|
|2003||"The Weakness in Me"|
|2005||"Breathe"||Best Rock Vocal Performance, Solo|
|2007||"I Need To Wake Up"||Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media|
In 1996, she was awarded ASCAP's Songwriter of the Year Award.
In 2001, she won the Gibson Guitar Award for Best Rock Guitarist: Female.
In 2006, at the 17th GLAAD Media Awards, Etheridge received GLAAD's Stephen F. Kolzak Award, which honors openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender media professionals who have made a significant difference in promoting equal rights. In addition, she was awarded as Outstanding Music Artist for Greatest Hits: The Road Less Traveled.
On May 13, 2006, at Berklee College of Music's 2006 commencement, held at Northeastern University's Matthews Arena, in Boston, Massachusetts, Berklee's president, Roger H. Brown, presented Etheridge with an Honorary Doctor of Music Degree ". Etheridge delivered the commencement address in front of more than 800 graduating students and 4,000 guests.
On September 27, 2011, Etheridge received the honor of having her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Located at 6901 Hollywood Boulevard, it is the 2,450th star awarded.
On October 31, 2016, Etheridge hosted the Melissa Etheridge & Friends "Rock-the-Boat" cruise. More than 2,000 passengers joined Etheridge, Joan Jett, the Cains and many other artists and speakers. The ship, Royal Caribbean International's Brilliance of the Seas, departed from Tampa, Florida, then continued to ports in Key West and Cozumel, Mexico, before returning to Tampa, Florida.
How does a rock star begin an evening? She puts in her hearing aids.