Happy Birthday

melissa etheridge
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Happy Birthday, Melissa Etheridge, Musician, Cancer Survivor and Gay Rights Activist

May 29, 2010
by Lindsey Chapman
An Oscar winner and two-time Grammy Award winner, the prolific Melissa Etheridge is renowned for her blend of pop-infused folk rock and her advocacy of progressive social issues.

Melissa Etheridge’s Early Days

Born in Leavenworth, Kan., on May 29, 1961, Melissa Etheridge received her first guitar when she was just 8 years old. She developed an early interest in rock music that reflected a blues influence and studied briefly at Boston’s Berklee College of Music before dropping out and moving to Los Angeles.

Manager Bill Leopold helped expose Etheridge through live performing, which attracted offers from many major record labels; Etheridge decided on Island Records.

Etheridge’s Music Career

Etheridge became a sensation in the 1990s because of her vocal style, which music writer Greg Prato likened to “raspy, Janis Joplin/Rod Stewart-esque vocals,” and the open, “confessional” nature of her lyrics.

Her first recorded work appeared on the movie “Weeds” and her first album was issued in 1988. As her career continued to blossom, rumors about her sexuality began circulating. Wanting to finally end the speculation, she decided to title her fourth album, “Yes I Am.”

In 2007, Etheridge won an Oscar for her song, “I Need to Wake Up,” which was written for Al Gore’s global warming documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Etheridge said in her acceptance speech, “I have to thank Al Gore for inspiring me, showing me that caring about the earth is not Republican or Democrat, it's not red or blue. We are all green.”

So far in her career, Etheridge has released 11 albums. Her Web site describes her 2007 album “The Awakening” as “Melissa Etheridge at her creative peak.” The musician said she created “The Awakening” in hopes that people would listen to it from beginning to end at least once. It was followed by “The Awakening Live” and 2008's “A New Thought For Christmas.”

The Rest of the Story

Aside from her music, Etheridge has been in the public eye for her relationship with her former partner, Julie Cypher. The couple had two children together whose biological father is rock star David Crosby. Their atypical relationship has been scrutinized.

“I do not believe that my children will be wanting in any way because they didn’t have a father in the home every single day,” Etheridge told “60 Minutes” in a 2000 interview. Etheridge and Cypher split in 2000, and in 2003, Etheridge married Tammy Lynn Michaels.

In 2004, Etheridge learned she had breast cancer. She was in the middle of chemotherapy when she was told she’d been nominated for a Grammy award. She didn't plan to attend the ceremony—her cancer treatment sometimes left her unable to move or speak—but then she was invited to sing in a Janis Joplin tribute, and she felt she had to go.

“I knew that my own adrenaline could absolutely carry me through for two and a half minutes,” she said in an interview with Dateline NBC. “I knew I could do it. And I wanted to do it.”

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