Musician. Megan White was born December 10, 1974 in Grosse Point Woods, Michigan, an upper middle-class suburb of Detroit. The second of two daughters born to Walter Hackett White Jr. and Catherine Della White, Meg White is remembered by those her knew her in her youth as a kind, shy child. She attended Gross Pointe North High School, where she was a good, if somewhat quiet, student who excelled at the arts and mostly kept to herself. A classmate recalled, “She was always the quiet, obviously artistic type & She just kept very much to herself & She seemed to have this schoolgirl innocence to her.” It seems that the first time White attracted much notice in her neighborhood was when, upon graduating from high school in 1993, she elected not to attend college—a gossip-worthy choice at Grosse Point North, where attending university was the ubiquitous path for graduates. Instead of going off to school White, who says she had once dreamed of becoming a chef, took a job as a bartender at a barbeque restaurant called Memphis Smoke.
During her senior year of high school, White had formulated a relationship with a boy named Jack Gillis. Gillis was an aspiring musician who hailed from a large, working-class Catholic family from a blue-collar neighborhood. They married on September 21, 1996, when Meg White was only 21 years old, and Gillis assumed White’s surname upon their marriage. Soon after, White and her husband moved into her in-laws’ former home in Detroit. Jack White took a job upholstering furniture by day, and worked on his music—he played drums, piano and guitar, in addition to singing—at night and on the weekends.
Though she had zero musical experience, White began attempting to accompany her husband on the drums while he played his guitar. “Jack had a set of drums upstairs, so I began playing with him,” she remembered. “It was childlike because I had no idea what I was doing.” However, something about the childish simplicity of White’s percussion struck both of them as powerfully resonant in both a humorous and nostalgic way. They decided to form a husband-and-wife band, with Meg White on drums and her husband playing guitar and keyboard while singing lead vocals. “That was really the whole idea when we started the band, it was just some way of getting back to childhood without it being a comedy act,” Jack White explained. “It was about how kids look at things. There’s a sense of humor that is deeply buried under everything. I’d kind of like it if people saw us and just halfway through the set started laughing.”
Naming themselves The White Stripes, they gave their debut performance at a local Detroit nightclub during the summer of 1997. After spending the next two years making a name for themselves on the Detroit underground rock scene, in 1999 The White Stripes released their self-titled debut album, featuring the single “The Big Three Killed My Baby,” to high critical praise but low sales. On March 24, 2000, Meg and Jack White divorced. But the divorce, if anything, only strengthened their musical partnership. Still almost entirely unknown to the general public, Meg and Jack White told interviewers that they were siblings; somewhat remarkably, this white lie was accepted at face value and repeated in many respectable publications for several years before it became widely known that they were, in fact, a divorced couple. Jack White explained in a later interview that they had devised the lie as a way to get people to focus on their music rather than their personal lives. “When you see a band that is two pieces, husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, you think, ‘Oh, I see…'” he said. “When they’re brother and sister, you go, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ You care more about the music, not the relationship.”
Only several months after their divorce, The White Stripes released their second album, De Stijl. Entirely self-recorded on eight-track analog tape, the album received universal praise. Although it sold very few copies at the time of its initial release, it would later become a cult classic after the band achieved mainstream success. The Whites Stripes finally scored that mainstream success with their 2001 album White Blood Cells, featuring their first hit song, “Fell in Love with a Girl.” The band’s profile rose further when the album was included on many publications’ lists of the year’s best albums.
The Whites Stripes became even more popular with their 2003 album Elephant, featuring the ubiquitous single “Seven Nation Army.” At once infectiously catchy and childishly simplistic, “Seven Nation Army” became the first song an entire generation of would-be rock stars learned to play in their guitar lessons. Elephant won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album and “Seven Nation Army” won for Best Rock Song.
The White Stripes’ next album, 2005’s Get Behind Me Satan, presented a decidedly different sound, significantly more complex, with piano featured more prominently than electric guitar. Featuring the single “Blue Orchid,” the album earned the White Stripes a second Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album. Icky Thump, released in 2007 and featuring the singles “Icky Thump,” Rag and Bone” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You’re Told),” then became the band’s third consecutive album to win the Best Alternative Album Grammy Award.
As it turned out, Icky Thump would also be the duo’s last album. After a long hiatus, the White Stripes officially announced their dissolution on February 2, 2011. The band’s official website explained, “The reason is not due to artistic differences or lack of wanting to continue, nor any health issues as both Meg and Jack are feeling fine and in good health. It is for a myriad of reasons, but mostly to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band and have it stay that way.”
Meg White married guitarist Jackson Smith in 2009 in a ceremony hosted by Jack White in the backyard of his Nashville home.
Meg White is the most improbable of rock stars. She is by nature shy, humble and quiet with no musical training. And although she has won four Grammy Awards and formed one-half of the most acclaimed alternative-rock band of the past decade, White still remains as humble and shy as ever. But according White herself, it was out of her limitations that the simplistic rhythms that defined The White Stripes’ sound, and captured the imagination of a generation, grew. “I’m just a very shy person,” she explains. “That is my strength. A lot of drummers would feel weird about being that simplistic.”