Melissa is openly gay. Starting in 2001, she was in a relationship with Tammy Lynn Michaels, an actress who appeared on the television show Popular. Michaels gave birth to twins in 2006, but the couple split up in 2010. In 2014, she married the writer Linda Wallem.
Etheridge was signed by Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records. He also signed U2 and Bob Marley.
She has defended Eminem and appreciates him as an artist, despite his antigay comments. She has also claimed to be a Britney Spears fan.
Etheridge starting seeing the director Julie Cypher in the late '80s, and they were a couple throughout the '90s. Cypher birthed two children during this time: daughter Bailey Jean (born in 1997) and son Beckett (born in 1998). They were both fathered by David Crosby, a friend of the couple.
Cypher was married to actor Lou Diamond Phillips before leaving him for Etheridge. When Cypher and Etheridge split in 2000, they bought houses with adjoining backyards so the kids could easily visit both parents.
On May 13, 2020, Etheridge announced the death of Beckett following his struggles with opioid addiction.
She got her first guitar at eight years old and was performing in bands by the time she was 12.
Melissa attended the Berklee College of Music, but dropped out after a year and a half because the structured environment didn't suit her - she instead headed to Los Angeles to pursue her passion. There are no hard feelings at the institution: Etheridge gave the commencement address at the school in 2006.
Her first recorded songs appear on the soundtrack to the film Weeds.
Born and raised in Kansas, she came out to her family when she left home at 18 - they weren't surprised. She moved to Los Angeles and took gigs playing lesbian bars - the only ones that would pay. When she signed with Island Records, her sexual orientation wasn't an issue but she kept it under wraps and no interviewers broached the subject. She came out officially along with Janis Ian and k.d. lang at one of Bill Clinton's inaugural balls in 1993 - the Triangle Ball
She helped a male fan propose by addressing his girlfriend at a concert and saying, "Your boyfriend's got a ring with him and wants to know if you'll marry him." The answer was "yes."
She has established a scholarship for performing arts at her Leavenworth, Kansas high school.
In 1995, she teamed up with VH1 in a deal where the network sold tickets to her shows on the air as part of the VH1 Tickets First: Melissa Etheridge special. She made $1.8 million by selling 40,000 tickets in two-and-a-half hours.
In her Songfacts interview
, she revealed her songwriting inspirations: Joan Armatrading, Peter Gabriel, Rickie Lee Jones, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, and Joni Mitchell.
She has had surprisingly little success in the UK, which she attributes to being a "loud, noisy, sweaty American girl."
When Brad Pitt was starting out in Los Angeles in the mid-'80s, he slept on Melissa Etheridge's sofa.