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Meet LGBT History Month icon Brandi Carlile

Photo credit:
Brandi Carlile/Twitter

(Editor's note: October is LGBT History Month, celebrated annually to recognize the notable achievements of LGBT people throughout time. Each day this month, Equality Forum will feature one LGBT icon who has made notable contributions to society and SDGLN will publish the story here in the Causes section. View previous LGBT History Month icons HERE.)

Carlile was born in Ravensdale, Washington, a small town 50 miles from Seattle. She grew up camping, hiking and practicing her singing. Her parents’ preference for classic country artists influenced her early musical tastes.

By the time she was 17, Carlile’s interest turned to rock and roll. She drew inspiration from Elton John and Freddy Mercury. “I was pretty convinced I was a flamboyant gay rock star in the making,” she told Rolling Stone in 2019.

Carlile taught herself to play guitar and piano and dropped out of high school to focus on her music. Performing gigs around the Seattle area, she met twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth, members of a local rock band, who became her co-writers and bandmates. The group began headlining shows and opening for major artists such as Dave Matthews.

In 2004 Columbia Records signed Carlile to a recording contract and released her self-titled debut album a year later. Rolling Stone named her one of its “10 Artists to Watch in 2005.” She toured nationwide with her band, doing her own concerts as well as supporting established artists such as the Indigo Girls and Shawn Colvin. In 2007 the hit ABC drama series “Grey’s Anatomy” featured three of Carlile’s songs, expanding her reach and popularity.

In April 2007, after the release of her second album, “The Story,” VH1 named her a “You Oughta Know Artist.” Produced by T-Bone Burnett, “The Story” remains Carlile’s most popular album to date, selling more than 500,000 copies.

Carlile has released six studio albums and one live album. Her 2018 album, “By the Way, I Forgive You,” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top Rock Albums chart. The work earned her six Grammy nominations, making her the most-nominated woman at the 2019 Grammy Awards. She won three: one for the album and two for the song “The Joke.”

In addition to her music, Carlile is an activist. With the Hanseroth twins, she created the The Looking Out Foundation, which has awarded grants to the Human Rights Campaign, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF and other nonprofit organizations. Through benefit albums and performances, she has raised more than $675,000 to support former child soldiers and $700,000 for Syrian refugees.

Carlile has publicly identified as a lesbian for more than 17 years. In September 2012, she married Catherine Shepherd in Boston. The couple lives in Maple Valley, Washington, with their two daughters.

Notable quote

“I was pretty convinced I was a flamboyant gay rock star in the making.”