Melissa Etheridge was born on May 29, 1961, in Leavenworth, Kansas. Her career leapt forward in 1986, when Island Records signed her. Her fourth record, Yes I Am (1993), launched her into rock stardom with the two giant hits: "I'm the Only One" and "Come to My Window." Etheridge, who continued to churn out studio albums, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. She made a full recovery.
Rock singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge was born on May 29, 1961, in Leavenworth, Kansas. The youngest of two girls born to John and Elizabeth Etheridge, a high school teacher and computer consultant respectively, Melissa grew up in what she later described as a lonely home, where her family offered little in the way of emotional support.
For solace and companionship, Etheridge turned to music, picking up her first guitar at the age of 8. She took lessons, finding refuge in her family's basement, where she wrote and played her music. When she got older and gained enough courage, Etheridge started playing for friends. Even at a young age, Etheridge wrote songs from the heart, with lyrics that spoke of pain, love and abandonment.
"I learned very early on that I could write truths," Etheridge later told CNN. "I could write about sadness or anger, where I couldn't actually speak it."
At the age of 12, Etheridge began playing with other musicians, largely male country-music groups at local bars around her hometown. Her hoarse voice was evident even then, though, and her concerned parents had her work briefly with a voice coach.
In 1979, the 18-year-old Etheridge realized her dream of moving out of Leavenworth to pursue a career in music. She headed east, to Boston, to study at the famed Berklee College of Music. Playing opportunities awaited her as she quickly got up to speed on the piano bars around the city and started earning a few extra bucks.
School, though, was another matter. After just a year, Etheridge dropped out. Eventually she packed her life into her car and moved to the other coast for a new life in Los Angeles. It wasn't long before Etheridge again found decent work in the clubs around the city. She had a manager, too, who soon helped her land a desirable five-night-a-week residency at the Executive Suite in Long Beach.
In 1984, Etheridge caught a break when she was hired as a songwriter for A&M Records, giving the young musician the chance to write songs for B-movies.
Etheridge's career lept forward in 1986, when Island Records president Chris Blackwell heard her perform. He signed her a few days later. After an unreleased first effort, she completed her stripped down self-titled debut in just four days. Melissa Etheridge (1988) was an underground hit, and the single, "Bring Me Some Water," was nominated for a Grammy.
In 1989, Brave and Crazy was released and, failing to break the top of the charts, Etheridge went on the road. She built a widespread fan base thanks to long, high-energy sets in the spirit of her musical idol, Bruce Springsteen.
While the adoration continued with her third release, Never Enough (1992), it was Etheridge's fourth record, Yes I Am (1993), which launched her into rock stardom. With ex-Police producer Hugh Padgham at the helm, the album produced two giant hits: "I'm the Only One" and the Grammy-winning "Come to My Window."
The record was more, however, than just a showcase of Etheridge's musical evolution. It also reflected the musician's comfort level with herself. Her life had taken considerable leaps in the years preceding the album's release. In 1988, she met Julie Cypher, then the wife of actor Lou Diamond Phillips. The two women quickly fell in love, and Cypher left Phillips for Etheridge.
For Etheridge, questions about her sexuality had constantly dogged her. Cognizant of the possible repercussions her career may experience if she confirmed she was gay, Etheridge walked a tight line. Finally, though, in 1993 she broke her silence in dramatic fashion, formally coming out of the closet at an inaugural ball for President Clinton. "I remember walking up and on the microphone, with thousands of people going, well, you know, I'm proud to have been a lesbian all my life," Etheridge told CNN. "And I'm like, oh, wow. I just came out."
The next few years proved to be wonderful ones for Etheridge. She wrote and recorded more music, and Cypher gave birth to two children: Bailey Jean (born in 1997) and Beckett (born in November 1998). Just as it had been when the press and the public wondered about Etheridge's sexuality, curiosity buzzed about who had fathered the couple's children.
Finally, in a celebrated cover story in Rolling Stone in 2000, Cypher and Etheridge came clean, announcing to the world that David Crosby was the biological father of both of their kids. Around this time, however, problems between the couple surfaced. The year culminated with Etheridge and Cypher announcing their breakup, a painful end for Etheridge that she later documented in her honest and revealing autobiography, The Truth Is: My Life in Love and Music, published in 2001.
It wasn't long, however, before Etheridge's love life took a big turn for the better. Soon, Etheridge was seen hitting the LA scene with actress Tammy Lynn Michaels, a woman 14-years younger than Etheridge who had starred in the WB program, Popular, and would later be featured in the TV drama The L Word. In September 2003, the couple participated in a commitment ceremony. Three years later, Michaels gave birth to twins: daughter Johnnie Rose and son Miller.
Etheridge, who continued to churn out studio albums, including the 2004 recording Lucky, found her life derailed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Etheridge would go on to make a full recovery, but just like so much else in her life, she wasn't afraid to expose her illness or the struggles that came with it as she fought the disease.
In one of the more dramatic moments in Grammy history, Etheridge, bald from her chemo treatment, showed up at the 2005 awards—her first appearance since being diagnosed with cancer. Later that night, she delivered a driving rendition of Janice Joplin's "Piece of My Heart."
The recent years have been an up-and-down affair for Etheridge. While never matching the success and sales that came with Yes I Am, Etheridge has continued to produce lauded studio work. A greatest hits album was put out in 2005, and two years later a record of new material hit stores with the release of The Awakening. That same year, Etheridge was rewarded with an Oscar for her original song, "I Need to Wake Up," which had been showcased on the soundtrack for Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. In 2008, Etheridge delivered fans a compilation of holiday songs in A New Thought for Christmas.
In April 2010, Etheridge and Michaels announced their split. The end of the relationship came just two months after the release of Fearless Love, Etheridge's 11th studio album.
Award-Winning Radio Show
In 2011, Etheridge debuted as host of the syndicated The Melissa Etheridge Radio Show, which would go on to win a Gracie Award for Outstanding Talk Show.
The singer/songwriter has been seeing Nurse Jackie co-creator Linda Wallem and the two are also working on a piano-bar musical. Etheridge released her next album, the biographical Fourth Street Feeling, in 2012, with the title referring to her hometown's main road.
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