Pride Month is finally here. That means festivals, parades, and all manner of celebrations, including Levity & Justice For ALL, a comedy benefit for LPAC, the only national lesbian political action organization, are just around the corner. Levity and Justice for ALL brings together pro-equality leaders, comedic talent, and rising stars to raise much needed funds. The events will benefit 2018 midterm election candidates who champion women’s rights and LGBTQ equality as well as racial justice.
The event is a blockbuster unto itself, and to up the ante this year, lesbian icon and rock super star Melissa Etheridge will be a Special Guest Presenter at the event. Etheridge has been a longtime and outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ community right from the very start. She did something very few people in the public eye do, especially in the 90s — she came out at the height of her career. It was 1993, at, of all places, President Clinton’s inaugural ball. She even surprised herself with the dramatic move.
Ever since, her relationships, from all things happy to all things sad, have been very public. Etheridge was with Julie Cypher from 1990 until 2000. The pair had two children. From May 2001 until 2012, she was with actress Tammy Lynn Michaels. They had two children together, as well. Etheridge is now married to Linda Wallem, who she has been with since May of 2014. They had been friends for ten years before entering a romantic relationship.
Etheridge describes her childhood as a lonely one. Even as a little kid, music brought Etheridge happiness and helped ease the loneliness she had come to know. By the time she was twelve, she was playing with other musicians – mostly male country music groups, in fact. Her parents hired a voice coach to help “fix” the hoarse voice that came to be her signature strength.
At eighteen she studied at the Berklee College of Music and made money playing at local piano bars. But after only a year, she left Berklee and made her way to Los Angeles where she worked at clubs across the city. But in 1986, things really began to change in Etheridge’s world.
Chris Blackwell, President of Island Records heard her perform and just a few short days later, signed her. In only four days, Etheridge finished her self-titled debut, Melissa Etheridge (1988). It was an underground hit, and she even received a Grammy nomination for the single “Bring Me Some Water.” Etheridge has spent her life performing and recording and garnering an impressive and loyal fan base. But you probably already know that.
So, here are fifteen things you may not have known you didn’t know about one of the lesbian community’s most beloved musical stars, Melissa Etheridge.
1. Etheridge’s first real musical break came in 1984. She was hired by A&M Records to write songs for B-movies. Of course, her “second” big break, being heard by Blackwell, soon outshone that gig.
2. “Come To My Window” was her first mainstream hit. The single from her 1993 album Yes I Am earned her a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Female. It was that album that truly made Etheridge a rock star.
3. Etheridge appeared on Ellen in 1997, and not just in any episode. She was in the very episode in which Ellen came out, “The Puppy Episode.”
4. In a cover story for Rolling Stone in 2000, Etheridge and her then partner, Julie Cypher, revealed that the biological father of their two children Bailey Jean (born in 1997) and Beckett (born in November 1998) was David Crosby.
5. In 2001 Etheridge released her autobiography, The Truth Is: My Life in Love and Music. In the book, she documents her break-up with Julie Cypher with both painful and revelatory honesty.
6. Etheridge is a breast cancer activist after having been diagnosed in 2004 and undergoing chemotherapy. Etheridge says medical marijuana helped to improve her mood and increase her appetite during her treatment.
7. She performed with Jess Stone in a tribute to Janis Joplin at the 2005 Grammy Awards while still bald from chemotherapy. Some consider it her most memorable performance. In fact, India.Arie says she wrote the song “I Am Not My Hair” about the inspiring visual.
8. In 2006, GLAAD awarded her the Stephen F. Kolzak Award. The award was given to her to honor her work promoting equal rights for the LGBTQ community.
9. She’s an environmental activist. In fact, she toured both the U.S. and Canada using biodiesel in 2006. Her Minneapolis stop was supported by BioDiesel Blue and Sunday’s Energy.
10. “I’m the Only One” was number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1993. It appeared on the album Yes I Am.
11. She featured a variety of female stars in her music videos. Juliette Lewis appeared in “Come to My Window;” Gwyneth Paltrow was in “I Want To Come Over;” and Jennifer Aniston was featured in “I Want to be in Love.”
12. Etheridge won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “I Need to Wake Up.” The song was on the soundtrack for Al Gore’s environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Queen Latifah and John Travolta presented the award to her, and Ellen DeGeneres hosted that year’s Oscars.
13. She hosted her own syndicated radio show in 2011 aptly called The Melissa Etheridge Radio Show. It won a Gracie Award for Outstanding Talk Show.
14. Her autobiographical album, Fourth Street Feeling, was released in 2012. The album’s title refers to the main road in her hometown.
15. Etheridge’s most recent album was released in 2016. The album is titled Memphis Rock and Soul and pays respect to Stax Records long history of music, which was both a major influence and inspiration for her. In it she covers Stax Records’ classic repertoire.
Get to know more about Etheridge live at Levity and Justice For ALL on Wednesday, June 20 at 7:30 at The Town Hall in NYC. Tickets still available for purchase here.