Speech for Melissa Etheridges' presentation of her Music Academy Governors Award
Los Angeles 1999
by Kathy Najimy

When Melissa Etheridge was two, she picked up a tennis racket, started strumming it and declared..."I am a rock star!"...When I was two, I picked up a spoon and stuck it into a Jell-O pudding cup and declared..."I am now peeing on the carpet." That is the difference between Melissa and the average person. She has always been extraordinary. When she was eight years old she received her first real guitar, and if I could find that person who gave it to her.. ...I would French kiss them. Because from that moment on, she began to funnel all of her passion, and honesty and amazing talent into what we know now is the music phenomenon of Melissa Etheridge. Melissa, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, grew up in Kansas. Melissa, like Dorothy, left her home town in search of OZ. And Melissa, like Dorothy, met up with a scarecrow, a lion and a... No, I'm sorry she didn't I just made that part up. Although she does, in fact, have an Auntie Em...no...I lied again I'm sorry.

The truth is that Melissa went onto Music School in Boston, played all kinds of gigs, in all kinds of places and eventually made it to Los Angeles where in her early twenties, her powerful talent brought her a manager and a record deal. She was actually discovered by Chris Blackwell from Island records when he caught sight of her legs as she as she sat on a stool at Hamburger Hamlet. O.K. Whatever...I made that up too.

Melissa not only writes her own original music and lyrics, but also sings a song like no one else. Her songs and her voice are so real, so raw and so passionate...you almost expect little bits of her heart and soul to come shooting out at you as she performs. Her songs don't contain one ounce of bullshit...they are from her, her pain and her joy exclusively and that is probably because Melissa doesn't contain one ounce of bullshit. (can one swear at a luncheon)?

When I first met Melissa I remember thinking..nice boobs...No kidding again sorry... I remember thinking I had never met a star so comfortable in her skin...so normal, so human that she immediately puts everyone at ease. Not even the pretense of not having pretense. Oh, and funny and beautiful and like myself a complete game queen. I liked her immediately.

O.K. what have we got? We have a woman in a primarily male dominated field who has achieved a wildly respected success... a woman who plays guitar and keyboards, who has recorded 5 hit records Melissa Etheridge, Brave and Crazy, Never Enough, Yes I am and Your Little Secret ... all which have gone platinum, a woman who won Songwriter of the year in from ASCAP, A woman who has been nominated for several Grammies and Won two Grammies. A woman who performed with her idol Bruce Springstein in concert on TV and a woman who has played to sold out audiences all over the world.

So you would think...you would think ... that that and the writing, the drive, the accessibility and the voice from beyond this world would be enough...Wouldn't you?

No, Melissa Etheridge became a political pioneer in 1983 when she publicly came out as a gay woman. Now, what we remember is maybe the shock, the flashiness of the media, the speculation of the impact on her career, the talk, the gossip: maybe what bars she was spotted at, and of course the in-depth journalistic coverage of your Hard Copies and your Inquirers.

What we NEED to remember is that Melissa's decision, scary, risky, and so courageous ... made and still makes a huge impact on millions.... on teenagers (in sometimes a life and death situations) ..on parents, on families, most certainly on all gays and lesbians and in general has helped to make America a more tolerant place to live. There is no way to track specifically the results of such a brave step....But believe me...it is there. Wherever there is shame, fear, and hate....there is also ... bigger than life, the glory of Melissa's' decision helping to wipe it away. She has become a tireless supporter of Gay and Lesbian Rights, Aids, the women's Movement, Presidential campaigns and Children's Causes...so for all of that, I am proud to be her friend and I thank her.

She also has amazing taste in women...as seen in her partnership with the beautiful Julie Cypher...together they are two of the most inspiring mothers I have ever known. And I say "Mothers" literally.

So, for her commitment to truth, and for her immense talents.... for her ability to write and sing songs of pain that are all of our pain, and songs of love that make us think she has crawled inside our hearts to tell our story, for her contributions to the Music World with songs that are so powerful they transcend age, gender and sexuality... For all of this I am proud to present the Recording Academy's Governors award to my friend Melissa Etheridge.