Beth Ditto was born on February 12, 1981. She grew up in Searcy, Arkansas, which apparently inspired the Kevin Bacon musical Footloose. Beth’s upbringing was difficult because there wasn’t a lot of money to go around and as a lesbian, she felt like an outsider. She would make friends only to feel conflicted by being attracted to them and unable to act on it.
Even with these difficulties, Beth’s upbringing did introduce her to soul music and the sounds of Gladys Knight, one of her early inspirations. Age 17, Beth moved to Olympia, Washington with friends Nathan Howdeswell and Kathy Mendonca, which would later inspire her to bring music into all of their lives.
Once settled in Olympia, Beth felt more comfortable with herself and accepted by others. One day, when a band had finished practicing in her basement, Nathan and Kathy started playing music and invited Beth to sing. It was all on a lark, but the three of them enjoyed making music and in 1999, the band Gossip was formed and a self-titled EP soon followed.
After signing a recording contract with Kill Rock Stars label, Beth and the band produced their first album in 2000, titled That’s Not What I Heard. Two years later an EP, Arkansas Heat, would follow, before Beth was back in the recording studio with Nathan and Kathy for another full album, Movement, in 2003. Although these albums received positive feedback from critics, this didn’t translate into a great deal of financial success, partially because Gossip’s label as a “lesbian band” didn’t allow for its fair share of promotional funding. Their recordings did allow Beth and company to do small tours, which culminated at The Knitting Factory in New York for a live album, Undead in NYC. Unfortunately, Kathy Mendonca would subsequently leave the band, and Beth found herself struggling with depression.
Beth’s depression proved to be a challenge that eventually sent her to a psychiatric hospital. During this dark time, she wrote her feelings into music to try to take something positive from the experience. Beth also felt driven to do something for the gay and lesbian movement that was being abandoned by the government. Beth disagreed strongly with the president’s stance on gay marriage, and the result was “Standing in the Way of Control,” the title song on Gossip’s next full-length 2006 album, which had Hannah Blilie replacing Kathy on drums.
The album’s title song became the band’s biggest hit to date and gave everyone a much-needed push up the ladder. Not only did it receive airplay in the U.S., but the album was also picked up by the label Back Yard Recordings in England and used in an ad campaign for the UK show Skins. Beth was elated that such a personal album was being heard across her home country and overseas as well. A tour with Scissor Sisters followed, as well as more acclaim.
The end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007 marked a rise in Beth’s international popularity. Britain’s New Music Express selected Beth as 2006’s Coolest Person in Rock for her unique look, strong beliefs and musical talent. They later nominated her as the Sexiest Woman of the Year a few months later. All this led to Beth’s very own advice column in London for The Guardian, another sign that she had indeed arrived.
The accolades paid off for Beth when Music With a Twist, a record label held by Sony Music, signed Gossip and made arrangements for them to perform in True Colors 2007 Tour, a benefit for human rights. Not only was it a good cause, but it allowed Beth to rub shoulders with Debbie Harry, Erasure and many others. With another album in the works and a steady personal relationship to boot, Beth has managed to kick the depression, replacing it with much personal and professional success.