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The youngest of two girls born to John and Elizabeth Etheridge, a high school teacher and computer consultant respectively, Melissa grew up in what she later described as a lonely home, where her family offered little in the way of emotional support.
For solace and companionship, Etheridge turned to music, picking up her first guitar at the age of 8. She took lessons, finding refuge in her family’s basement, where she wrote and played her music. When she got older and gained enough courage, Etheridge started playing for friends. Even at a young age, Etheridge wrote songs from the heart, with lyrics that spoke of pain, love and abandonment.
“I learned very early on that I could write truths,” Etheridge later told CNN. “I could write about sadness or anger, where I couldn’t actually speak it.”
At the age of 12, Etheridge began playing with other musicians, largely male country-music groups at local bars around her hometown. Her hoarse voice was evident even then, though, and her concerned parents had her work briefly with a voice coach.
In 1979, the 18-year-old Etheridge realized her dream of moving out of Leavenworth to pursue a career in music. She headed east, to Boston, to study at the famed Berklee College of Music. Playing opportunities awaited her as she quickly got up to speed on the piano bars around the city and started earning a few extra bucks.
School, though, was another matter. After just a year, Etheridge dropped out. Eventually she packed her life into her car and moved to the other coast for a new life in Los Angeles. It wasn’t long before Etheridge again found decent work in the clubs around the city. She had a manager, too, who soon helped her land a desirable five-night-a-week residency at the Executive Suite in Long Beach.
Etheridge’s career leapt forward in 1986, when Island Records president Chris Blackwell heard her perform. He signed her a few days later. After an unreleased first effort, she completed her stripped down self-titled debut in just four days. Melissa Etheridge(1988) was an underground hit, and the single, “Bring Me Some Water”, was nominated for a Grammy.
Etheridge has continued to produce lauded studio work. A greatest hits album was put out in 2005, and two years later a record of new material hit stores with the release of The Awakening. That same year, Etheridge was rewarded with an Oscar for her original song, “I Need to Wake Up”, which had been showcased on the soundtrack for Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. In 2008, Etheridge delivered fans a compilation of holiday songs in A New Thought for Christmas.