By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
On Melissa Etheridge’s Instagram, her bio reads “mother, rockstar, activist” in that order.
The sweet sentiment is courtesy of her son, Beckett, when he was in his mid-teens.
“What’s really sweet about that is — about 10 years ago or whenever I first joined Instagram — it was my son Beckett who signed me up,” she says about the bio.
“We were in the car, and he said, ‘You have to be on Instagram.’ He wrote that description and he put ‘mother’ first. He was probably 14 or 15.”
He died of causes related to opioid addiction at age 21 in 2020. In response to Beckett’s death, the musician started the Etheridge Foundation, which supports new scientific research into the causes and effects of opioid addiction. It partners with and supports organizations who delve into “new ways of understanding and treating underlying mental health issues in conjunction with drug addiction, to seek treatment outside pharmaceutical norms, and to find new answers and relief for those suffering from the devastating effects of addiction.”
This year, she’s filming a documentary about the U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth, in her home state of Kansas, and performing a concert at a women’s prison.
“I’ve been trying to do that for years, and it finally came through,” she says about the concert. “I think my town is really unique that, within a 20-mile radius, there are five prisons. When I was a kid, those were the first places I ever played. I’ve been wanting to come back and do it.”
Opioid addiction has led to an uptick in crime and family estrangement.
“So many mothers are behind bars because of it,” she says. “I want to highlight that for sure.”
Etheridge has been a force since she released her self-titled debut record in 1998. She won two Grammys for Best Female Rock Performance; a songwriter of the year honor at the ASCAP Pop Awards; and a best song win at the 2007 Academy Awards for “I Need to Wake Up,” written for the Al Gore documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”
Her smoky vocals and confessional lyrics are found in hits like “I’m the Only One” and “Come to My Window.” In October 2004, Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer. Yet, she appeared on the 2005 Grammy telecast to sing “Piece of My Heart” in honor of Janis Joplin. She supports the use of medicinal cannabis.
October 2022 saw Melissa’s return to the theater with her one-woman show, “My Window – A Journey Through Life.” It premiered at New World Stages in October 2022 and will move to Broadway in 2023.
When Etheridge comes to Arizona to play the Chandler Center for the Arts on Sunday, April 23, and the Fox Tucson Theatre on Saturday, April 29, she guarantees she’ll play the hits, travel into deep tracks and “play the guitar like crazy.” The shows will feature a couple tracks from “My Window.”
“The show was off Broadway, and it went really well,” she says. “We’re going on Broadway this year. It’s my life. It is a fun, sexy musical look at my life. I always dreamed about this, and these are the dreams coming true.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking, but I have all the control over it. This is the story as I wish to tell it. It’s very, very cathartic and very healing for me.”
“My Window” introduced the song “Juliet,” and it will feature a cover she preferred to keep under wraps for now.
“(‘Juliet’) is one song that I’ve never recorded that was early, early in my career,” Etheridge says. “It would have been on the first album, but it referred to a lesbian bar and I wasn’t ready to do that. It’s in the show. There’s a cover that I used to do back before I was discovered when I was playing bars. I’ll leave that open there.”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday, April 23
WHERE: Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 N. Arizona Avenue, Chandler
COST: Tickets start at $72
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 29
WHERE: Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress Street, Tucson
COST: Tickets start at $20