Meshell Ndegeocello

Last updated

Meshell Ndegeocello
Meshell Ndegeocello.jpg
Meshell Ndegeocello performing in Washington, D.C., 2007
Background information
Birth nameMichelle Lynn Johnson
Also known asMeshell Suhaila Bashir-Shakur
Me'Shell Ndegéocello
Born (1968-08-29) August 29, 1968 (age 52)
Berlin, Germany
Origin Washington, D.C., United States
Occupation(s)Singer-songwriter, rapper, musician
InstrumentsVocals, bass, keyboards, drums, guitar
Years active1992–present
Labels Maverick/Reprise/Warner Bros, Shanachie, EmArcy, Decca/Universal, Mercer Street/Downtown, Naïve
Associated acts John Mellencamp, Madonna, Benson Taylor, Chaka Khan

Michelle Lynn Johnson, better known as Meshell Ndegeocello ( /mɪˈʃɛlndɛˈɡɛl/ ; born August 29, 1968), is an American singer-songwriter, rapper, and bassist. She has gone by the name Meshell Suhaila Bashir-Shakur which is used as a writing credit on some of her later work. [2] Her music incorporates a wide variety of influences, including funk, soul, jazz, hip hop, reggae and rock. She has received significant critical acclaim throughout her career, [3] [4] being nominated for eleven Grammy Awards, and winning one. [5] She also has been credited for helping to "spark the neo-soul movement". [6]



Ndegeocello was born Michelle Lynn Johnson in Berlin, Germany, to army Sergeant Major and saxophonist father Jacques Johnson and health care worker mother Helen. She was raised in Washington, D.C. where she attended Duke Ellington School of the Arts and Oxon Hill High School.

Ndegeocello adopted her surname, which she says means "free like a bird" in Swahili, 17. However, Kaniaru Wacieni (native Swahili speaker) contests this translation and asserts that it means “bird with a cello”. Early pressings of Plantation Lullabies were affixed with stickers to help pronounce her name. The spelling has changed in the hands of record labels a few times during her career; the correct spelling of her stage name as of 2001 is Meshell Ndegeocello. [7]


In 2016 at Cosmopolite Scene in Oslo MeShell NdegeoCello (222747).jpg
In 2016 at Cosmopolite Scene in Oslo

Ndegeocello honed her skills on the D.C. go-go circuit in the late 1980s with the bands Prophecy, Little Bennie and the Masters, and Rare Essence. [8] She unsuccessfully tried out for Living Colour's bassist position, vacated in 1992 by Muzz Skillings. Going solo, she was one of the first artists to sign with Maverick Records, where she released her debut album, Plantation Lullabies . This recording presented a distinctly androgynous persona.

Her biggest hit is a duet with John Mellencamp, a cover version of Van Morrison's "Wild Night", which reached No. 3 on the Billboard charts. Her only other Billboard Hot 100 hit besides "Wild Night" has been her self-penned "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)", which peaked at No. 73 in 1994. Also in 1994, Ndegeocello collaborated with Herbie Hancock on "Nocturnal Sunshine," a track for the Red Hot Organization's compilation album, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool . The album, meant to raise awareness and funds in support of the AIDS epidemic in relation to the African American community, was heralded as "Album of the Year" by Time magazine.

She had a No. 1 dance hit in 1996 with a Bill Withers cover song called "Who Is He (And What Is He to You)?" (briefly featured in the film Jerry Maguire ) as well as Dance Top 20 hits with "Earth", "Leviticus: Faggot", "Stay" and the aforementioned "If That's Your Boyfriend.. Last Night)". Ndegeocello played bass on the song "I'd Rather be Your Lover" for Madonna on her album Bedtime Stories . Ndegeocello was also tapped, at the last minute, to perform a rap on the same song. This came after Madonna and producers decided to remove Tupac Shakur's rap (which he did while he and Madonna were dating in 1994), after he had criminal charges filed against him. Ndegeocello also performed a rap on Chaka Khan's single "Never Miss the Water", from the album Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan, Vol. 1 , released in 1996. The song reached #1 on Billboard's Dance Club Play Chart and #36 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Chart.

Her music has been featured in a number of film soundtracks including How Stella Got Her Groove Back , Lost & Delirious , Batman & Robin , Love Jones , Love & Basketball , Talk to Me , Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls , The Best Man , Higher Learning , Down in the Delta , The Hurricane , Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom , and Soul Men .

She has appeared on recordings by Basement Jaxx, Indigo Girls, Scritti Politti, and The Blind Boys of Alabama. On The Rolling Stones' 1997 album Bridges to Babylon she plays bass on the song "Saint of Me". On Alanis Morissette's 2002 album Under Rug Swept , she plays bass on the songs "So Unsexy" and "You Owe Me Nothing in Return". On Zap Mama's album ReCreation (2009), she plays bass on the song "African Diamond".

She can also be seen in the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown , singing The Miracles' "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" and The Temptations' "Cloud Nine". In the late 1990s, she toured with Lilith Fair. She also did a remake of the song "Two Doors Down" on the 2003 release Just Because I'm A Woman: The Songs of Dolly Parton .

Ndegeocello was also a judge for The 2nd, 12th, 13 and the 2015 14th Annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers. [9]

Her song "Tie One On" was chosen as the Starbucks iTunes Pick of the Week on February 23, 2010.[ citation needed ]

In 2016, she provided the theme song, "Nova", for the Oprah Winfrey-produced show Queen Sugar . [10] She also collaborated with French-Cuban duo Ibeyi in the song Transmission/Michaelion for the album Ash reciting a poem by Frida Kahlo.

In December 2016, the world premiere of Ndegeocello's Can I Get a Witness? The Gospel of James Baldwin , a new theatrical music and art work, was held in Harlem, New York. [11]


In 2002, Ndegeocello collaborated with Yerba Buena on a track featuring Ron Black for the Red Hot Organization's tribute album to Fela Kuti, Red Hot and Riot . Proceeds from the album went to various AIDS charities, per the Red Hot Organization's mission.

In June 2010, she contributed a cover of U2's "40" to the Enough Project and Downtown Records' Raise Hope for Congo compilation. Proceeds from the compilation fund efforts to make the protection and empowerment of Congo's women a priority, as well as inspire individuals around the world to raise their voice for peace in Congo.

In 2010, Ndegeocello contributed to the essay anthology It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living , edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller in the vein of the It Gets Better Project.

Personal life

Ndegeocello is bisexual and previously had a relationship with feminist author Rebecca Walker. Ndegeocello's first son, Solomon, was born in 1989. [12] Since 2005, she has been married to Alison Riley, with whom she has a second son. [13]


Studio albums




Related Research Articles

Melvin M. Ragin, known professionally as "Wah Wah Watson", was an American guitarist who was a member of The Funk Brothers, the studio band for Motown Records.

Chaka Khan American singer and songwriter

Yvette Marie Stevens, better known by her stage name Chaka Khan, is an American musician, singer and songwriter. Her career has spanned nearly five decades, beginning in the 1970s as the lead vocalist of the funk band Rufus. Known as the "Queen of Funk", Khan was the first R&B artist to have a crossover hit featuring a rapper, with "I Feel for You" in 1984. Khan has won ten Grammy Awards and has sold an estimated 70 million records worldwide.

<i>Standing in the Shadows of Motown</i> American film

Standing in the Shadows of Motown is a 2002 American documentary film directed by Paul Justman that recounts the story of The Funk Brothers, the uncredited and largely unheralded studio musicians who were the house band that Berry Gordy hand-picked in 1959.

Lisa Germano

Lisa Ruth Germano is an American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Indiana. Her album Geek the Girl (1994) was chosen a top album of the 1990s by Spin magazine. She began her career as a violinist for John Mellencamp. As of 2018 she has released thirteen albums.

Lalah Hathaway American singer (born 1968)

Eulaulah Donyll "Lalah" Hathaway is a 5x Grammy Award winning singer.

Siedah Garrett American singer and songwriter

Deborah Christine "Siedah" Garrett is an American singer and songwriter who has written songs and performed backing vocals for many recording artists in the music industry, such as Michael Jackson, The Pointer Sisters, Brand New Heavies, Quincy Jones, Tevin Campbell, Donna Summer, Madonna, Jennifer Hudson among others. Garrett has been nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Original Song, and won the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media at the 50th Grammy Awards for co-writing "Love You I Do" for the 2006 musical film, Dreamgirls.

Nothing Really Matters 1999 single by Madonna

"Nothing Really Matters" is a song recorded by American singer Madonna for her seventh studio album, Ray of Light (1998). It was written by Madonna and Patrick Leonard, and was produced by the singer with William Orbit and Marius De Vries. The song was released as the fifth and final single from the album on March 2, 1999 by Maverick Records and Warner Bros. Records. An EDM track on which Madonna experiments with different musical genres, "Nothing Really Matters" includes ambient music and electronic noise frequencies that were added by De Vries. Lyrically, the recording delves on the singer's first daughter Lourdes Leon, having also themes of selfishness, affection, and motherhood.

Human Nature (Madonna song) 1995 single by Madonna

"Human Nature" is a song recorded by American singer Madonna for her sixth studio album Bedtime Stories (1994). It was written as an answer song to her critics, who had panned her provocative image of the previous two years and Madonna's release of sexually explicit works. Written and produced by Madonna and Dave Hall, "Human Nature" includes a looping sample from Main Source's 1994 track "What You Need", therefore its writers Shawn McKenzie, Kevin McKenzie and Michael Deering are also credited. The track was released on June 6, 1995, by Maverick Records as the fourth and final single from Bedtime Stories.

<i>Plantation Lullabies</i> 1993 studio album by MeShell NdegéOcello

Plantation Lullabies is the debut studio album by American singer-songwriter and bassist Me'shell NdegéOcello. It was released by Maverick Records on October 19, 1993, to widespread critical acclaim and has since been viewed as a landmark neo soul record.

Wild Night

"Wild Night" is a song written by Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison and is the opening track on his fifth studio album Tupelo Honey. It was released as a single in 1971 and reached number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

<i>Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape</i> 2002 studio album by Meshell Ndegeocello

Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape is an album by Meshell Ndegeocello. It was released on June 4, 2002 on Maverick Records. The album peaked at #67 on the Billboard Top 200 list that year, and was nominated for Best Contemporary R&B Album at the 2003 Grammy Awards. The album also peaked at #21 on the Billboard R&B Album chart and #67 on Billboard's Top Internet Albums chart.

<i>Batman & Robin</i> (soundtrack) 1997 soundtrack album by various artists

Batman & Robin: Music from and Inspired by the "Batman & Robin" Motion Picture is the soundtrack album to the motion picture Batman & Robin (1997).

Maverick (company)

Maverick was an American entertainment company founded in 1992 by Madonna, Frederick DeMann, and Veronica "Ronnie" Dashev, and formerly owned and operated by Warner Music Group. It included a recording company, a film production company, book publishing, music publishing, a Latin record division, and a television production company. The first releases for the company were Madonna's 1992 coffee table publication Sex and her studio album Erotica, which were released simultaneously to great controversy as well as success.

<i>Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan, Vol. 1</i> 1996 greatest hits album by Chaka Khan

Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan, Vol. 1 is a compilation album of recordings by American R&B/funk singer Chaka Khan, first released on the Warner Bros. Records label in 1996. Although the compilation, which reached #22 on Billboard's R&B chart and #84 on Pop, was given the "Vol. 1" tag, it remains without a sequel to date.

"If That's Your Boyfriend " is a single by American recording artist Meshell Ndegeocello. It was released in 1993 on Maverick Records. It also appears on her debut album Plantation Lullabies that was released on October 19, 1993, on Maverick Records. The single reached #73 on the US Billboard Hot 100, #74 in the UK, and #79 in Australia. Colin Larkin called it a "provocative post-feminist statement" in his Encyclopedia of Popular Music. The single earned Ndegeocello nominations for both Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the 37th Grammy Awards.

David Gamson is an American keyboardist/musician. Originally hailing from New York, he has worked with, among others, Kesha, Kelly Clarkson, Jessie J, Adam Lambert, Chaka Khan, Charli XCX, Meshell Ndegeocello, Green Gartside, Sheila E., George Benson, Luther Vandross, Donny Osmond, Miles Davis, Al Jarreau, Tony LeMans, Roger Troutman and Eden XO.

<i>How Stella Got Her Groove Back</i> (soundtrack) 1998 soundtrack album by Various artists

How Stella Got Her Groove Back is the soundtrack to the 1998 film, How Stella Got Her Groove Back. It was released on August 11, 1998, through Flyte Tyme Records and consisted mainly of R&B music. The album was entirely produced by the production duo, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis with additional help from Wyclef Jean & Jerry Duplessis as well as Salaam Remi. The soundtrack peaked at number eight on the Billboard 200 albums chart and number three on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and was certified gold on September 22, 1998, by the RIAA. Two singles were released from the album, "Luv Me, Luv Me" and "Beautiful".

<i>Devils Halo</i> 2009 studio album by MeShell Ndegéocello

Devil's Halo is the eighth studio album by American singer-songwriter and bassist Me'Shell Ndegéocello. It was released by Downtown Records on October 6, 2009.

"Who Is He?" is a track from Bill Withers' 1972 album, Still Bill. The music was written by Withers along with Stan McKenny, who wrote the lyrics. The song has also been featured on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown.


  1. Green, Tony (March 2002). "Joi: Star Kity's Revenge (Universal)". Spin . p. 129. Retrieved January 23, 2021 via Google Books.
  2. Layman, Will. "Me'Shell Ndegeocello: The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidels < PopMatters". Retrieved July 18, 2011.
  3. Lecaro, Lena (October 24, 2002). "Head, heart and soul". Los Angeles Times. pp. E–12. Retrieved February 28, 2009.
  4. "Grammy Nominations For J J Cale, Bettye LaVette and Meshell Ndegeocello – Just Announced". News, December 2007. The Rosebud Agency. December 6, 2007. Archived from the original on December 26, 2008. Retrieved February 28, 2009.
  5. "Meshell Ndegeocello to Perform at 'You Rock My Soul' GMHC Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall on November 11th". NY Rock. August 14, 2002. Archived from the original on April 8, 2009. Retrieved February 28, 2009.
  6. Yarbrough, Kenya (August 9, 2002). "Me'Shell Ndegeocello: One Tough "Cookie"". EURweb. Rabercom Enterprises. Archived from the original on April 7, 2009. Retrieved February 28, 2009.
  7. "". March 3, 2001. Retrieved July 18, 2011.
  8. Wiltz, Teresa (June 19, 2005). "Meshell Ndegeocello Breaks Step With Pop". The Washington Post . pp. N01.
  9. "Past Judges". Independent Music Awards. Archived from the original on July 13, 2011. Retrieved July 18, 2011.
  10. "Queen Sugar Soundtrack". What-Song. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  11. "Harlem Stage to present the world premiere of Meshell Ndegeocello's 'Can I Get a Witness? The Gospel of James Baldwin,' December 7–11". The Stage Review. November 29, 2016.
  12. Zwerin, Mike (February 23, 1994). "Me'Shell - Debut on Madonna Label -". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved July 18, 2011.
  13. DiGuglielmo, Joey (November 10, 2011). "Meshell's magic". Washington Blade. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  14. "Me'Shell NdegéOcello Singles & EPs". Retrieved February 7, 2014.