Birth name: Melissa Viviane Jefferson
Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan
April 27, 1988 – Present
Years Active: October 25, 2013 – Present
Vocalist/Flutist/Rapper Lizzo combines the three modes of performance on her recordings. Born in Detroit, the self-proclaimed “band nerd” moved to Texas at age nine and began playing flute in sixth grade band. Lizzo’s great-grandparents founded Mercy Faith Temple Church of God in Christ in Michigan. She grew up listening to and singing gospel in household where secular music was largely forbidden, but she heard a few popular artists who were favorites of her parents— Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Queen, and Hall and Oates amongst them.
Lizzo participated in marching band from middle school through college. Her flute, Sasha Flute, named for Beyoncé’s third album Sasha Fierce, has its own instagram profile, @sashabefluting, with over a quarter million followers. At fourteen, Lizzo began rapping with friends and her nickname Lissa was transformed to Lizzo in a nod to Jay-Z’s “Izzo,” which was popular at the time.
Lizzo received a music scholarship to University of Houston, but left school without completing and embarked on her career as a professional musician as flutist of the Ellypseas, a prog-rock inspired band that played SXSW. Lizzo experienced homelessness and, when her father passed away, an episode of major depression. She left Texas joining her mother in Denver before moving on to a Minneapolis suburb. In Minneapolis she formed the band Chalice and, later, with a Chalice bandmate, created GRRRL PRTY. It was GRRRL PRTY that got Prince’s attention. He invited them to record “Boytrouble” on the PLECTRUMELECTRUM album and perform at Paisley Park.
Lizzo’s debut solo album, LIZZOBANGERS was released on Totally Gross National Product in 2013 and re-released on Virgin Records in 2014. In 2015, Big GRRRL Small World was released on Atlantic Records and garnered positive reviews. With tracks like “My Skin,” the lyrics and video of which explicitly addressed Lizzo’s racialized life experience, Big GRRRL Small World solidified her place in popular culture both as a proponent of body-positivity and radical self-love and an artist willing to be vulnerable about her experience as a woman living outside of mainstream beauty standards.
“And I remember one day being like, ‘This is it.’ Twenty-some-odd years of me believing that one day I can wake up and be some other girl. It’s like, you’re not gonna wake up and be bigger or smaller or lighter or darker; your hair’s not gonna suddenly grow down past your knees. You’re going to look this way for the rest of your life. And you have to be OK with that. And I used my music as therapy to get there. I’m not perfect; I fall back sometimes. But this is my life, and I have to do the best I can with it. And if other people are following it, then I need to make it the best life possible.”
Cuz I Love You, Lizzo’s 2019 album, found her collaborating with her hero Missy Elliott on “Tempo.” The single “Truth Hurts” unseated Lil Nas X’ record-breaking “Old Town Road” to become Lizzo’s first No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. In September 2019, the single would also be her first number 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Lizzo’s influences are wide-ranging and include James Galway, Big Freedia, Destiny’s Child, The Mars Volta, SZA, Marvin Winans and the Perfected Praise Choir . She describes Aretha Franklin as an inspiration and spiritual guide. When asked what Sister Rosetta Tharpe means to her, Lizzo replied “Everything. She invented rock and roll.”