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Etheridge, Melissa (b. 1961)  
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The passion, intensity, and emotion of Etheridge's performances and the sincerity of her lyrics have won her the admiration of many fans, but lesbians have especially responded to her fearless expression of raw emotion.

Even since coming out publicly, however, Etheridge has not written a specifically lesbian love song. Although her songs have sometimes been interpreted as referring to her lesbianism (as in the title of her album Yes I Am), she disavows such interpretations, which she sees as limiting. In her songs, she prefers to use a genderless you when referring to her beloved. Explaining this choice in an interview in The Advocate, Etheridge said, "I don't want to cut anybody out. I don't want to alienate anyone."

In this aim she has succeeded. As music journalist and Etheridge biographer Chris Nickson notes, "[h]er songs speak to everybody, showing that whether heterosexual or gay, we share the same emotions--that at the heart of it all, it's passion and love that matter, not sexual orientation."

New Work, New Relationship

In 2002, Etheridge released a DVD entitled Live . . . and Alone. The title refers to the artist's summer 2001 concert tour, on which she performed without any backup musicians.

Happily, however, she was no longer alone in her personal life, having entered into a relationship with Tammy Lynn Michaels, an actress who appeared on the WB television series Popular. Together since 2002, the couple exchanged wedding vows on September 20, 2003 in Malibu, California.

A minister from the non-denominational Agape Church presided at the ceremony. Etheridge and Michaels consider themselves married, though they were not able to get a marriage license in California at the time. Both women were attended by their mothers, who lit candles and held the wedding rings until it was time for the couple to exchange them.

Etheridge released a new album, Lucky, in early 2004. Like her 2001 album, Skin, written in the wake of her break-up with Cypher, Lucky is a mirror of her life, but this time reflecting her newfound joy.

Medical Challenge

In October 2004, Etheridge announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Because she had to undergo surgery and chemotherapy, she canceled a concert tour to promote her album Lucky.

Etheridge's first public appearance after beginning cancer treatment was at the Grammy Awards ceremony in February 2005. Chemotherapy had caused her to lose her hair, but nothing could stop her indomitable spirit: standing bald, courageous, and determined, she teamed with British rocker Joss Stone in an exuberant rendition of "Piece of My Heart" in tribute to Janis Joplin. She received a much deserved standing ovation.

Great Expectations

In April 2006, Etheridge received the Stephen F. Kolzak Award at the annual GLAAD Media Awards. The honor is given to "an openly gay member of the entertainment or media community for his or her work toward eliminating homophobia."

In the same month Etheridge and Michaels announced that Michaels was pregnant, having conceived twins through artificial insemination, using an anonymous donor from a sperm bank. The couple's daughter, Johnnie Rose, and son, Miller Steven, were born on October 17, 2006.

Calling themselves "a blessed family," the couple requested that well-wishers not send gifts and stated that they would donate any received to a women's shelter.

At the Academy Awards presentation in February 2007, Etheridge won the Oscar for Best Song for her composition "I Need to Wake Up," which she wrote for and performed in the documentary An Inconvenient Truth (2006, directed by Davis Guggenheim), featuring former Vice President Al Gore. In accepting the award, she thanked her wife for her support and expressed the hope that "we can be the generation that woke up and changed" to become better stewards of the environment.

In response to a question about where she would be keeping her statuette, Etheridge quipped, "This is the only naked man that will be in my bedroom."

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