DiFranco was born in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of Elizabeth (Ross) and Dante Americo DiFranco (died 2004), who had met while attending MIT. Her father was of Italian descent, and her mother was from Montreal. DiFranco started playing Beatles covers at local bars and busking with her guitar teacher, Michael Meldrum, at the age of nine. By 14 she was writing her own songs. She played them at bars and coffee houses throughout her teens. DiFranco graduated from the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts high school at 16 and began attending classes at Buffalo State College. She was living by herself, having moved out of her mother's apartment after she became an emancipated minor when she was 15.