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. Separation was not amicable, and they are currently fighting over custody of the twins. (Picture: Tammy Lynn Michaels)
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.
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 which is still active today. Her childhood home was at 1902 Miami Street.
Melissa Ethridge And Tammy Lynn Michaels in happier times
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.
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 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."
The most significant disappointment for the gay community on Election Day occurred in Colorado, where voters approved a ban on laws prohibiting antigay discrimination by the surprisingly large margin of 53 to 47. But even that result would ultimately be overturned because of Clinton's election. On the evening of January 20, 1993, gay activists held their own inaugural ball at the National Press Club. The new president did not make an appearance, but lesbian singing stars Melissa Etheridge and k. d. lang greeted the ecstatic throng from the balcony. --Charles Kaiser. The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America (Kindle Locations 4787-4788). Kindle Edition.Further Readings:
The Truth Is . . .: My Life in Love and Music by Melissa Etheridge & Laura Morton
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (June 11, 2002)
Amazon: The Truth Is . . .: My Life in Love and Music
Since she first burst onto the international music scene, Melissa Etheridge has released seven albums that have sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, garnering not only public adoration for her uncompromising honesty but numerous critical awards, including two Grammys and the prestigious ASCAP Songwriter of the Year award. The Truth Is . . . is a highly charged autobiography—a bold and unflinching account of an extraordinary life that Melissa describes as only she can: from her Kansas roots, through her early love of music, to her brilliant rise to superstardom in a male-dominated rock world. Melissa openly discusses the massive impact of her publicly coming out, a revelation that only increased her popularity, making her a highly visible spokesperson for the gay and lesbian community. The Truth Is . . . shares Melissa Etheridge’s fascinating story with unprecedented candor and insight.
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