- Category : Singer - Popular
- Type : PE
- Profile : 3/5 - Martyr / Heretic
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Planning 2
Melissa Lou Etheridge (born May 29, 1961) is an American rock singer-songwriter and activist.
Etheridge is known for her mixture of confessional lyrics, pop-based folk-rock, and raspy, smoky vocals. She has also been an iconic gay and lesbian activist since her public coming out in January 1993.
Life and career
Born in Leavenworth, Kansas, the younger of two girls, to John Etheridge, a psychology teacher at Leavenworth High School, and Elizabeth Williamson, a computer consultant. She attended David Brewer School, which is still located at 17th and Osage Streets. She graduated in 1979 from Leavenworth High School (LHS), 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 in 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, got her discovered by Island Records chief Chris Blackwell. She got 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 was an underground hit, and the single, "Bring Me Some Water", a turntable hit, 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 radio syndication, 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.
1986–92: Road to rock stardom
Etheridge followed up her first album's modest success by contributing background vocals to Don Henley's album The End of the Innocence. She went into the studio and recorded her sophomore effort 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, taking a page from one of her musical influences Bruce Springsteen, and built a loyal fan base. Etheridge is a Bruce Springsteen fan, and she 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."
1993: Yes I Am – 1994
On September 21, 1993, Etheridge released what would become her mainstream breakthrough recording Yes I Am. Co-produced with former The Police and Genesis Grammy-winning and Producer of the Year award-winning producer 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 Billboard's 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 1993, Etheridge boycotted playing shows in Colorado over its passage of Amendment 2.
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.
In 1994, Etheridge played a cover version of "Burning Love" live in Memphis, during the "It's Now Or Never, The Tribute To Elvis".
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 covering The Rolling Stone's Honky Tonk Woman with Sammy Hagar.
1995–2002: After her breakthrough
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 which wasn't as well received by critics as prior recordings. Your Little Secret is the highest charting album of Etheridge's career reaching #6 on the Billboard album charts, but only spent 41 weeks on the chart. The album produced two Top 40 singles "I Want to Come Over" (Billboard #22) and "Nowhere to Go" (Billboard #40) and earned a RIAA certification of 2× Platinum, less than "Yes I Am."
In 1996, Etheridge won 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.
In 1997, she appeared as herself on the sitcom Ellen on "The Puppy Episode Part 2".
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 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, below her prior 5 albums.
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 post her breakup with first partner Julie Cypher, critics noted that Skin was "A harrowing, clearly autobiographical dissection of a decaying relationship." Despite the 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).
In 2002, Etheridge released her autobiography titled, "The Truth Is: My Life in Love and Music."
2004–present: Lucky, cancer diagnosis, Academy Awards and Fearless Love
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.
Etheridge was also a judge for the 5th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers.
In August 2006, Melissa also produced and sang the vocal tracks on the Brother Bear 2 soundtrack, including collaborations with Josh Kelley.
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, 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 Bárbara Mori, Lisa Ray, Deepak Chopra and Morgan Brittany.
Etheridge also held a private listening party hosted at Michele Clark's Sunset Sessions 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 performed her title track "Fearless Love" from her new album and "Come to My Window" from 1993 on the April 27, 2010, airing of "Dancing With the Stars" on ABC.
Etheridge performed the role of St. Jimmy in Green Day's hit Broadway musical, American Idiot from February 1–6, 2011.
Etheridge said in July 2011 that she is writing songs for a musical that her partner, Linda Wallem, is writing.
Etheridge will play her first Pride event on Saturday, June 9, 2012 at Pittsburgh Pride's – Pride in the Street. Pride in the Street is a block party that takes place on the made famous by Queer as Folk series Liberty Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets.
As of June 2012...Melissa announced on her radio show that her new CD, called "4th Street Feeling," was finished. Release date September 4, 2012. Melissa will begin touring for 4th Street Feeling in October, 2012.
Etheridge's father, John Etheridge, was a high school psychology teacher, counselor and athletic director at her alma mater, Leavenworth High School. He died in 1993. Her mother Elizabeth was a homemaker and a computer analyst and is now retired.
Etheridge came out publicly as a 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 occasionally received press coverage. 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 custody 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. Medical 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."