Credited in the media for having started the “neo-soul” movement, 42-year-old singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello is a proud bisexual African American woman with ten Grammy Award nominations stowed in her satchel.
Born in Germany and raised in Washington, D.C., Ndegeocello started her music career by recording a self-made demo in her bedroom before taking off to New York City hoping to strike gold as a bassist. She was soon signed to Madonna’s Maverick Records and she would release eight studio albums between the years of 1993 and 2009.
Tantalizing sounds, strikingly-authentic structures, and gnawingly raw lyrics lined the albums from the inside out and Ndegeocello’s sound and passion caught immediate fire within the entertainment industry. The musician’s ambiguous demeanor and representation of self further fueled media speculation into not only her music, but sexuality and social practices that were fairly taboo at the time of her arrival on the scene.
In addition to her own studio recordings, Ndegeocello has contributed her vocal abilities and bass talent to artistic ventures by the Indigo Girls, The Rolling Stones, Alanis Morissette, Zap Mama, and Basement Jaxx. Perhaps one of her most popular hits came from a working relationship with John Cougar Mellencamp. The pair joined to release a cover of Van Morrison’s “Wild Night” and it topped the Billboard charts at the #3 position in the summer of 1994.
Meshell has released 8 albums since 1993, including her most recent: Devil’s Halo (Oct. 2009). She was one of the first artists signed to Madonna’s Maverick Records, which released her first 5 albums.
Meshell has played on albums by The Rolling Stones, John Mellencamp, Madonna, Santana, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Chaka Khan, Indigo Girls, Ledisi, Alanis Morissette, Joan Osborne, Basement Jaxx, Soulive, Gilles Peterson, Joshua Redman Elastic Band and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe among many others. Her music has been featured on film soundtracks including Batman & Robin, Love Jones, Money Talks, Down in the Delta, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, The Hurricane, Love & Basketball, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Talk to Me and Soul Men among others.
Although she has changed the spelling of her name over the past 20 years in the music business, “Ndegeocello” is the correct way to spell it currently. The name literally means “free like a bird.” Ndegeocello’s birth name is on record as “Michelle Lynn Johnson.”
A bass player above all else, Meshell brings her signature warm, fat, and melodic groove to everything she does. Canonized, marginalized or just scrutinized, she has given up trying to explain herself. After 20+ years in an industry that has called her everything from avant garde to a dying breed, what unquestionably remains is the fearsome bassist, prolific songwriter and the creativity and curiosity of an authentic musical force. With that, she has earned critical acclaim, the unfailing respect of fellow players, songwriters and composers, and the dedication of her diverse, unclassifiable fans.
* Photo by Mark Seliger. Used with permission.