- Grew up in Jamestown, NY, which is also the birthplace of Lucille Ball.
- Volunteered at a summer camp for children with disabilities when she was 15.
- Left high school early, at age 16, to work in a health-food store and take classes at Jamestown Community College. Became a vegetarian the same year.
- Joined Still Life, a precursor of 10,000 Maniacs, at age 17 after meeting several of its members through the Jamestown Community College's radio station.
- Gained a British following with 10,000 Maniacs in 1983 after influential British DJ John Peel began playing "My Mother the War" on his radio show.
- With 10,000 Maniacs, broke through to popular acclaim in the U.S. in 1987 with the album In My Tribe, which sold more than two million copies.
- Involved in social activism, working on behalf of such causes as animal rights and homelessness. Has put her time where her mouth is, too: She volunteered at a Harlem homeless shelter for six months after 10,000 Maniacs' Blind Man's Zoo album (1989).
- In 1995, released her solo debut album, Tigerlily, which sold more than five million copies in the U.S.
- Became friends with poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-97) after referencing him in 10,000 Maniacs' "Hey, Jack Kerouac"; and performed Ophelia's "King of May," which she had written for him, at his memorial service.
- Volunteered at her daughter's school teaching the children about folk music.
- Enjoys painting and gardening.
- Bernadette Merchant — Sister
- Jude Merchant — Brother
- Anne Meyer Merchant — Mother
- Lucia — Daughter
- Daniel de la Calle — Husband
- Michael Stipe — Ex-significant Other
- Christopher Anthony Merchant — Brother
- Anthony Merchant — Father
- Attended State University of New York, Jamestown, New York, United States