She was born in 1969, with the name Michelle Johnson, in Germany, to a strict military father and devoutly religious mother. In the early 1970's, the family relocated to Virginia.
Her father was both a strict disciplinarian and part-time Jazz Saxophonist, and his occasional playing gave Me'Shell her introduction to the world of music. She eventually ended up playing in nightclubs in Washington, D.C., playing the bass guitar, while still a teenager. At this point, she was also exploring her sexuality - something that would come to pervade her music and image, in a positive manner, right alongside her musical talent. However, at this point, her first romantic relationship with another woman went badly, leaving her feeling like an outsider.
In the late 80's, she left the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, upset and disillusioned with their almost exclusively male Jazz department, and ended up at Howard University. Her career as a student there didn't last long, however, as she fould herself pregnant. She headed to New York, where she gave birth to her son, Askia, in 1988. Me'Shell worked odd jobs while auditioning for various bands (such as Living Color) to make sure to provide for her child.
She ended up part of the band Women in Love, where she soon had a commanding presence in the group - which is unusual for a bass player. It wasn't long until she attracted the attention of a would-be scout, at a rock protest in New York, with her own improv material done with a bass guitar, drum machine, and keyboard. She was soon the first female artist signed to the Maverick label.
In 1993, she released her first solo album, Plantation Lullabies. Some compared her unique musical perspective to when Tina Turner first took up the microphone. She definately was noticed for her fusion of fun and rock - both traditionally male dominated genres. She was very brazen with her views and perspectives in her music, predating both Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. She even drew parallels between her music and the slave trade, saying, "anywhere you feel trapped is a plantation. These songs i wrote to soothe all this stuff that was going on in my mind." This album would eventually lead to three Grammy nominations.
Her first single, "If that's your boyfriend (he wasn't last night)" gained a lot of club play in 1994, thanks to a remix by Lil' Louis that kept the integrity of her sound, and led to being the first female "bassist of the year", on the cover of Bass Guitar Magazine. The lyrics, describing her as the point-person in a heterosexual love triangle, set the stage for her open self-identification as a bisexual, African-America rock star, blurring the lines of both genre and sexuality.
She's been compared to musicians such as Al Green and Prince, and added to that by referring to herself as the female Bruce Springsteen - which partially came out of her collaboration with John Mellencamp on 1994's "Wild Night". In 1995 she collaborated again, this time with Chaka Khan, on "Never Miss the Water". She also contributed to "Ain't Nuthin' but a She Thing", and found herself part of Lilith Fair for its last year. She also could be found on soundtracks for "White Man's Burden", "Money Talks", and "Living Single".
In 1996, her second album, "Peace Beyond Passion" came on strong, using religious mythology as a metaphor throughout the album, combining it with more modern day issues such as race and homophobia. The first single, "Leviticus: Faggot" tells the tale of a young man forced onto the street by unaccepting parents, without sloganeering or bashing, even to the mother asking God to "save him [her son] from his life". "Mary Magdalene" is full of declarations of love to the Bible's most famous prostitute. She also presents a gender-bending take on Bill Withers' "Who Is He and What Is He to You".
In 1997, she worked with up-and-coming female rapper Pen, and was closely involved in helping Pen do a song recounting a tale of a love triangle where she found herself involved with another man's girlfriend. It worked out well for both of them - by attacking the hip-hop industry's homophobia, Me'Shell reasserted herself as someone who won't back down, while Pen was able to establish herself in the industry better.
In 1999 Me'Shell released "Bitter", which, oddly enough, was her most joy-filled album to date, and also her most personal. She summed it up in the
July 31, 1999 issue of Billboard Magazine, saying, "bitter is about duality and contradictions, about love and hate, about relationships, about how we are all perfect beings struggling to find peace in a world of contradictions...the world is made up of 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows, and I wanted to celebrate that sentiment on this album."
AMG All Music Guide, http://allmusic.com/
Lilith Fair: Artists: MeShell Ndegeocello, http://www.lilithfair.com/sampler/meshellndegeocello/
SALON: Music: Passionate messenger, http://www.salon.com/weekly/music960722.html
divastation: me'shell ndegéocello, http://www.divastation.com/meshell_ndegeocello/ndegeocello_bio.html