Since her debut album in 1993, songwriter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Meshell Ndegeocello has been creating music on her own terms, simultaneously challenging and engaging listeners by deftly drawing from an eclectic songbook and delivering powerful reflections on race, love, sex, betrayal, power and religion. Her nine albums illustrate a creative versatility and singular aesthetic that has embraced everything from rock to hip hop, R&B to new wave, funk to punk, reggae to jazz. Her work has been met with critical accolades and fan acclaim, and her proficiency on the bass has brought her signature warm, fat, melodic groove not only to her own performances, but also to those of the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Alanis Morrisette, James Blood Ulmer, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Tony Allen, John Medeski, Billy Preston and Chaka Khan. Ndegeocello best characterizes her particular brand of playing: "Genres are for commercial purposes and music is a continuum like everything else. My style is explorative, searching, personal, and it grows and changes as I do."
Born Michelle Johnson in Berlin, Germany, Ndegeocello spent her formative years in Virginia, cultivating her musicality during the late Eighties while working the go-go circuit in Washington, D.C. In the early Nineties, Ndegeocello moved to New York, armed with a demo she recorded in her bedroom. Soon thereafter, she became one of the first artists added to the roster at Madonna's Maverick Records. The result was 1993's Grammy-nominated Plantation Lullabies and its single, "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)," which cracked the Billboard Hot 100. A year later, Ndegeocello covered Van Morrison's "Wild Night" in a duet with John Mellencamp, and the song reached Number Three on the Billboard Hot 100. A series of innovative releases followed, including 1999's deeply introspective Bitter, 2003's sultry dub-soul-jazz exploration Comfort Woman and the loose jazz jams of 2005's The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel. Along the way, the adventurous musician has found inspiration in her female peers, including the songwriting of Joan Armatrading, "the amazing emotion and texture" in Lisa Coleman's playing and 1997 Hall of Fame Inductee "Joni Mitchell for her unruliness in the industry and her refusal to be told what to make," says Ndegeocello.
Devil's Halo (2009) signified yet another seismic tonal shift for Ndegeocello, as she and her backing band ventured headlong into an album marked by rock atmospherics. Songs such as "Slaughter," "Mass Transit," "White Girl" and "Blood On The Curb" brought waves of guitar and steady rock beats into the mix, though Ndegeocello's smoky vocals and nuanced basslines still guided the 12 tracks. Ndegeocello released Weather in late 2011, bringing back much of the band that played on Devil's Halo (guitarist Chris Bruce, pianist Keefus Ciancia and drummer Deantoni Parks) along with Bitter's producer Joe Henry. Along with Ndegeocello's evocative funk-driven motifs and driving grooves on numbers such as "Dirty World" and "Dead End," the album includes a scintillating version of Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel," and a dramatic re-working of the Soul Children's 1970's Stax recording "Don't Take My Kindness for Weakness."
Ndegeocello will perform on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's main stage on Friday, February 17. Doors open at 7 pm and the show starts at 8 pm. Remaining tickets are standing-room only. Tickets are available at https://tickets.rockhall.com.
Meshell Ndegeocello performs "Dead End" from Weather