American rock and country singer, songwriter, and guitarist Etheridge is a rock singer-songwriter known for her raspy renditions of songs with soul-baring, passionate lyrics.
Born: May 29, 1961; Leavenworth, Kansas
Melissa Lou Etheridge (ETH-rihj) was born to schoolteacher John Etheridge and his wife Elizabeth in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1961. She describes her family as supportive but notwarmor loving. As a teenager, she performed with various cover bands in Kansas, often in bars, chaperoned by her father. After high school she enrolled at Berklee College of Music in Boston, but she soon returned home to earn enough money to move to Los Angeles. She headed to Southern California in 1982, and over the next several years she developed a following by playing at women’s bars. Longtime manager Bill Leopold discovered Etheridge at Vermie’s bar in Pasadena, and after Island Records owner Chris Blackwell heard her sing at Que Sera in Long Beach, Etheridge signed a contract with the label. Etheridge publicly came out as a lesbian at the Triangle Ball following President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. Her public announcement brought her relationship with longtime partner Julie Cypher to the forefront.
The pair met in 1988, when Cypher was the assistant director for Etheridge’s first music video and still married to actor Lou Diamond Phillips. Cypher and Etheridge split in 2000, but they had two children (daughter Bailey, born in 1997, and son Beckett, born in 1998), fathered by singer David Crosby through artificial insemination. In 2001 Etheridge became romantically involved with actress Tammy Lynn Michaels, who gave birth to twins in 2006 (son Miller Steven and daughter Johnnie Rose), fathered by an anonymous sperm donor through artificial insemination. In October, 2004, Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she successfully battled with chemotherapy, and she began performing again in 2005. The Music Etheridge’s personal life is tied inextricably to her music, which has often–but not always– worked to her benefit. From an early age she used music as an emotional outlet from her stifled family life, retreating to the basement to write songs.
As Etheridge says in her autobiography, “a string of nonmonogamous relationships” led to a “bunch of really good songs.” Etheridge’s first five albums– Melissa Etheridge, Brave and Crazy, Never Enough, Yes I Am, and Your Little Secret–went platinum or multiplatinum. Her later albums–Breakdown, Skin, and Lucky–never reached that success. She came back, however, to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2007 for the rock anthem “I Need to Wake Up,” written for Al Gore’s documentary about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth (2006). The Oscar-winning song is included on a 2007 rerelease of Etheridge’s 2005 album Greatest Hits: The Road Less Traveled. Later, The Awakening, recorded after her recovery from breast cancer, showed Etheridge at a creative peak, exploring life from a new, hard-won perspective.
Although The Awakening is amore relaxed, mature effort than her earlierwork, she delivers it with her trademark passion, conviction, and humor. Melissa Etheridge. Etheridge’s self-titled debut album featured the singles “Like the Way I Do,” “Similar Features,” and the Grammy Awardnominated hit “Bring Me Some Water.” The last song centers on an infectious, bluesy guitar riff, with Etheridge singing that she is “burning alive” with jealousy. Although the Grammy Award went to Tina Turner, Etheridge’s live performance at the awards show led to a huge increase in her visibility and her record sales, and her follow-up album, Brave and Crazy, was also well received. Never Enough. The cover photograph for Etheridge’s 1992 album Never Enough featured the singer topless with her back to the camera, receiving almost as much attention as the music. The album incorporated some dance music, and in general it was more tightly produced than its somewhat raw predecessors. The techno sound of “2001” and the mellow pop of ”Dance Without Sleeping” offer glimpses of these new sounds, and Etheridge won her first Grammy Award for “Ain’t It Heavy,” an empowering, guitar-driven rock anthem more true to her roots. Yes I Am. Although the title track to Etheridge’s wildly popular 1993 album is not specifically about her sexuality, the bold statement became synonymous with her coming out as a lesbian earlier that year. The album featured songs that became huge hits: “If I Wanted To,” “I’m the Only One,” and “Come to My Window,” the last of which earned a Grammy Award and catapulted her into superstardom. “Come to My Window” is a haunting rock ballad about a woman desperately trying to reach her lover.
Although Etheridge’s autobiography indicates that the song relates to a difficult time in her relationship with Cypher, the universal theme mirrors many listeners’ experiences. Etheridge’s follow-up album, Your Little Secret, was also a hit, but Yes I Amstood as a definitive statement. Musical Legacy While rarely described as musically innovative, Etheridge made music that exemplifies her rockand- roll roots, and she remained committed to it in the face of divergent popular trends. Her willingness to bare her soul and share her personal journey makes her compelling to her fans. In addition to her music, Etheridge supports many causes–human rights and environmental issues in particular– making her an important role model.