Etheridge was born in Leavenworth, Kansas
. 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. Melissa was a member of the first "Power and Life" musical/dance group at LHS which is still active today. Melissa's childhood home was at 1902 Miami Street. Melissa's father, John, was a teacher, counselor and athletic director at LHS. She attended Berklee College of Music
in Boston for three semesters in 1979 and 1980 and was friends with fellow student Lauren Passarelli
, now a guitar professor at Berklee. While in Boston as a student, Etheridge performed at many local establishments including Ken's By George.
A raging Lesbian, in 1982 Etheridge moved from Leavenworth to Los Angeles, California, to break into the music business. She got some small gigs performing at The Candy Store on the Sunset Strip
, as well as at least four lesbian or mixed bars: Robbie's, the Executive Suite and the Que Sera Sera in Long Beach
and Vermie's in Pasadena
. Some of her early fans from Vermie's gave her demo tape to Bill Leopold, a friend's husband who worked in the music business. Etheridge auditioned for Leopold, who was so impressed that he offered to represent her on the spot.
In 1986, Etheridge was signed by Island Records, but her first album was rejected by the label as being too polished and glossy. Given four days in the studio to re-record, she cut ten tracks which were released as her eponymous debut album.
Etheridge has released ten albums in her career. Three of them have gone multi-platinum: Melissa Etheridge (1988), Yes I Am (1993) and Your Little Secret (1995). Two others went platinum and two more gold.
Etheridge is a Bruce Springsteen fan, and she has covered his songs "Thunder Road" and "Born to Run" during live shows. She is also a fan of the Dave Matthews Band and has expressed interest in collaborating with them.