Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Melissa Etheridge

Melissa Etheridge, gravelly voice rocker and gay rights activist, was born in historic Leavenworth, Kansas, on May 29, 1961. She grew up listening to a variety of types of music, from rock to country and blues, on the local AM stations, and by the age of twelve she was playing guitar in a band. She lists Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones as the main influence on her guitar playing. When she graduated from high school, she struck out for Boston and a year at the Berklee College of Music before landing in Los Angeles in 1982. By that time she had developed her own style as a writer and performer of rock songs tinged with blues.

Etheridge signed with Island Records in 1986 and issued her first album two years later. It went platinum. In 1992 she won her first Grammy for "Ain't It Heavy" from the Never Enough album. By 1999 she had put out a total of seven albums, including 1993's Yes I Am, which sold more than four million copies and yielded three Top 10 hits, among them the Grammy-winning "Come to My Window." Etheridge has since become a rock celebrity, performing with her friend and hero, Bruce Springsteen, on her MTV Unplugged special, singing "Piece of My Heart" at Janis Joplin's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and appearing at Woodstock in 1999. More than this, however, she has devoted herself to social activism, especially as a gay rights advocate. She publicly announced her own lesbianism in 1993. Etheridge does not shy away from controversy in her songs or in her life, but she says (as if with disappointment) that the only place where her concerts have drawn right-wing protests is her hometown of Leavenworth.

David J. Wishart University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Nickson, Chris. The Only One. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.

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