Melissa Etheridge

Melissa Etheridge
Etheridge at a ceremony to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in September 2011
Melissa Lou Etheridge

(1961-05-29) May 29, 1961 (age 60)
  • Singer-songwriter
  • musician
  • activist
Years active1985–present
(m. 2014)
Partner(s)Julie Cypher
(c. 1990; sep. 2000)
(m. 2003; div. 2012)

(registered domestic partnership)
Musical career
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • piano
  • harmonica
  • mandolin
  • drums

Melissa Lou Etheridge (born May 29, 1961) is an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and activist.[5] 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,[6] earning an RIAA certification of 6× Platinum,[7] her largest selling album 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, performing a tribute to Janis Joplin with Joss Stone. Stone began the performance with "Cry Baby" and Etheridge, bald from chemotherapy, joined her to perform the song "Piece of My Heart".[8] Their performance was widely acclaimed and India.Arie wrote "I Am Not My Hair" about Etheridge.[9] 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.[7] Her latest studio album is The Medicine Show (2019).

Etheridge is known for music with a mixture of "confessional lyrics, pop-based folk-rock, and raspy, smoky vocals."[3] She has been a gay and lesbian activist since her public coming out in January 1993.[10] 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.[11]

Early life and career

Etheridge was born in Leavenworth, Kansas, the younger of two daughters of Elizabeth (Williamson), a computer consultant, and John Etheridge, an American Constitution teacher at her alma mater, Leavenworth High School. John Etheridge died in August 1991.[12]

Etheridge began to play in local country music groups in her teenage years and graduated from high school in 1979.[13][14] While attending college at Berklee College of Music, Etheridge played the club circuit around Boston. After three semesters, Etheridge decided to drop out of Berklee and move to Los Angeles to attempt a career in music.[3]


1982–1992: Road to rock stardom

Etheridge was discovered at Vermie's, a bar in Pasadena, California. 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 Etheridge perform live. He was impressed, and became a pivotal part of Etheridge's career.[15] This, in addition to her gigs in lesbian bars around Los Angeles, led to her discovery by Island Records chief Chris Blackwell. She signed a publishing deal to write songs for films including the 1986 movie Weeds.[16]

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 (1988), was an underground hit, and the single "Bring Me Some Water" performed well on radio and was nominated for a Grammy Award.[16]

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."[17] 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.[18]

Etheridge's second album, Brave and Crazy, was released in 1989.[19] Brave and Crazy followed the same musical formula as her eponymous debut; it also garnered a Grammy nomination. The album peaked at No. 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.[20]

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.[21]

In 1992, Etheridge established a performing arts scholarship at Leavenworth High School in honor of her recently deceased father. According to Etheridge, her father purchased her first guitar and "would come with me to bars in the area when I played because I was underage".[22]

1993–1995: Yes I Am

In January 1993, Etheridge came out publicly as a lesbian. On September 21, 1993, she released Yes I Am, which became her mainstream breakthrough album.[23] Co-produced with Hugh Padgham, Yes I Am spent 138 weeks on the Billboard 200 charts and peaked at No. 15. It scored two 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. Yes I Am earned a RIAA certification of 6× platinum.[24]

Etheridge earned her second Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female for her single "Come to My Window", based on an unsettling scene in the Pavarotti film, "Yes, Giorgio".[citation needed] 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".[citation needed]

In 1993, Etheridge boycotted playing shows in Colorado over its passage of Amendment 2.[20]

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."[25]

The album's fifth single, "If I Wanted To", debuted in February 1995 on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 25, the highest debut for a single in 1995.[26]

Melissa Etheridge concert ticket, 1995

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,[24] while Never Enough earned a RIAA certification of platinum.[24]

Etheridge's follow-up to Yes I Am was the moderately successful Your Little Secret (1995). 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 No. 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.[24]

1996–2003: After her breakthrough

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 family when her first two children Bailey (1997) and Beckett (1998) were born.[27][16] 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.[citation needed]

Etheridge returned to the music charts with the release of Breakdown in October 1999. Breakdown peaked at No. 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 was certified gold by the RIAA.[24]

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.[28] 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 No. 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.[29]

In 2002, Etheridge released an autobiography entitled "The Truth Is: My Life in Love and Music."[30]

2004–2008: Lucky, cancer diagnosis, Academy Awards and The Awakening

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 had begun dating in 2001. Lucky performed similarly to Skin, selling fewer than 500,000 copies, peaking on the Billboard charts at No. 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).[citation needed]

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".[9]

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.[citation needed]

In November 2005, Etheridge appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno to perform her song "I Run for Life".[31]

Etheridge performs during the third night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado.

Etheridge wrote "I Need to Wake Up" for the film documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 2006. The song was released only on the enhanced version of her greatest hits album, The Road Less Traveled.[32][33]

Etheridge was also a judge for the 5th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers.[34]

In August 2006, Melissa also produced and sang the vocal tracks on the Brother Bear 2 soundtrack, including collaborations with Josh Kelley.[35]

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.[36] In addition, she performed at the U.S. 2008 Democratic National Convention on August 27, 2008.[37]

2009–2015: Fearless Love, 4th Street Feeling, and This Is M.E.

Etheridge performing live. Spirit Mountain, August 2010

Etheridge was featured in UniGlobe Entertainment's breast cancer docudrama titled 1 a Minute released in 2010.[38]

Etheridge performed the role of St. Jimmy in Green Day's hit Broadway musical, American Idiot from February 1–6, 2011.[39][40]

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.[citation needed]

In 2014, she was one of the performers at the opening ceremonies of WorldPride in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, alongside Tom Robinson, Deborah Cox and Steve Grand.[41]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

2016–present: Memphis Rock and Soul, and The Medicine Show

On October 6, 2016, Etheridge released her thirteenth studio album entitled Memphis Rock and Soul, A covers album made of blues tracks originally recorded by blues legends such as Otis Redding, William Bell, and the Staples Singers.[42]

On April 12, 2019, Etheridge released a new album entitled The Medicine Show.[43] The first single from the album was entitled "Faded by Design".[42]

Personal life

Etheridge came out publicly as lesbian in January 1993 at the Triangle Ball, a gay celebration of President Bill Clinton's first inauguration.[23] Etheridge supported Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign and since coming out, has been a gay rights activist. She is also an advocate for environmental issues and in 2006, she toured the US and Canada using biodiesel.[44]

Etheridge is standing, wearing a white jacket and tank top, speaking live
Etheridge speaking in 2005

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."[45] During this partnership, Cypher gave birth to two children, Bailey Jean and Beckett.[46] Cypher became pregnant via artificial insemination using sperm donated by musician David Crosby.[47] On September 19, 2000, Etheridge and Cypher announced they were separating.[48]

In 2002, Etheridge began dating actress Tammy Lynn Michaels.[49] The two had a commitment ceremony on September 20, 2003.[50] On October 17, 2006, Michaels gave birth to fraternal twins, Johnnie Rose and Miller Steven, who were conceived via an anonymous sperm donor.[51][52]

In October 2004, Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent surgery[53] and chemotherapy.[54] 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.[55]

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".[56] 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.[57] On April 15, 2010 Etheridge and Michaels announced they had separated.[58] In May 2012, it was announced that their two-year child support battle had been settled.[59]

Etheridge performing at a September 2011 ceremony where she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

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."[60]

In 2013, Etheridge called Angelina Jolie's choice to have a double mastectomy to avoid the possibility of breast cancer a "fearful" 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."[61] Andrea Geduld, the director of the Breast Health Resource Center at Mt. Sinai Hospital, criticized Etheridge's remarks. Experts also cautioned that Etheridge's statements were not accurate.[62]

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.[63] The couple married on May 31, 2014 in San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, California, two days after they both turned 53.[64]

Etheridge was featured on a 2015 episode of Who Do You Think You Are?[65]

Starting in 2014, Etheridge partnered with a California medical marijuana dispensary to make cannabis-infused wine.[66]

A 2016 article in The New York Times stated that Etheridge wore hearing aids.[67]

In 2019, her daughter, Bailey Cypher, graduated from Columbia University.[68][69]

On May 13, 2020, Etheridge announced on her Twitter that Beckett, her son with Cypher, had died of causes related to opioid addiction at the age of 21.[70][71]


A2IM Libera Awards

Year Nominee / work Award Result Ref.
2020 The Medicine Show Best Mainstream Rock Album Nominated [72]

Academy Awards

The Academy Awards are presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS)[73]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2007 "I Need to Wake Up" from the documentary An Inconvenient Truth Best Original Song Won

Billboard Music Awards

The Billboard Music Awards are held to honour artists for commercial performance in the U.S., based on record charts published by Billboard.[74]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
1995 Herself Top Female Artist Nominated
Top Billboard 200 Artist - Female Nominated

ECHO Awards

The ECHO Award is a German music award granted every year by the Deutsche Phono-Akademie, an association of recording companies.[75]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
1993 Herself Best International Female Nominated

Grammy Awards

The Grammy Awards are awarded annually by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Etheridge has won two awards from fifteen nominations.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
1989 "Bring Me Some Water" Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female Nominated
1990 "Brave and Crazy"
1991 "The Angels"
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

Pollstar Concert Industry Awards

The Pollstar Concert Industry Awards is an annual award ceremony to honor artists and professionals in the concert industry.[76][77]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
1990 Tour Best Debut Tour Nominated
Club Tour of the Year Nominated
Small Hall Tour of the Year Nominated
1995 Won

Other accolades

In 1988, Melissa received "Diamond Spotlight Award" in Diamond Awards Show, Belgium.[78]

Melissa Etheridge shared her personal experiences of advocating for the LGBT community at a United States Department of Justice Event

At the 20th Annual Juno Awards in 1990, Etheridge won the Juno Award for International Entertainer of the Year.[79]

In 1996, Etheridge received ASCAP's Pop Songwriter of the Year Award.[80]

In 2001, she won the Gibson Guitar Award for Best Rock Guitarist: Female.[81]

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.[82] In addition, she was awarded as Outstanding Music Artist for Greatest Hits: The Road Less Traveled.[citation needed]

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.[83]

On September 27, 2011, Etheridge received the honor of having her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It is the 2,450th star that has been awarded.[84]



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