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Michelle Lynn Johnson was born on August 29, 1968 in Berlin, Germany
and raised in Washington D.C. As a teenager she adopted the name
‘Ndegéocello’ (meaning free like a bird in Swahili).
Ndegéocello is self-taught on the bass, guitar, keyboards
and drums. She attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and
honed her skills performing on the D.C go-go circuit with bands
such as Little Bennie and the Masters, Prophecy and Rare Essence.
Ndegéocello was the first female artist to be signed to
Madonna’s Maverick Record Label in 1993. Her debut for Maverick
“Plantation Lullabies” spawned the hit single “If
That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasen’t Last Night)”
as well as three Grammy Nominations.
Ndegéocello’s 1996 sophomore, “Peace Beyond
Passion” would be released to further acclaim and a wider
audience. Though this album would not garner hit singles, it still
earned Grammy nominations and is regarded as one of her finest albums
by her loyal followers. After recording her third album “Bitter”
(1999) Ndegéocello began to question Maverick’s support.
Maverick did not feel that “Bitter” contained potential
hit singles, so were initially reluctant to release it.
Ndegéocello’s funky live jam sessions consistently
sell out venues worldwide. She defies convention and consistently
releases groundbreaking, thought provoking music.
Ndegéocello’s writing and performing collaborations
have included artists such as Prince, Chaka Khan, Eric Bennet, Madonna,
Vanessa Williams, David Bowie, Marcus Miller, John Cougar Mellencamp,
George Clinton, Herbie Hancock, The Blind Boys of Alabama and The
Rolling Stones to name a few. Her music has appeared in various
films such as ‘Batman & Robin’, ‘How Stella
Got Her Groove Back’, ‘Lost & Delirious’ and
‘Down in the Delta.’
Ndegéocello suffers from Photosensitive epilepsy and is
susceptible to seizures induced by flash photography when she is
I remember Me’shell Ndegéocello’s gig at
the Jazz Café a few years ago (possibly 2002). I couldn’t
wait to get some great photographs of her. (As well as enjoy some
great music of course). Unfortunately my plans to photograph Ms
Ndegéocello were thwarted by her hat (which covered most
of her face) and impossible lighting conditions. After just ten
minutes into her set she requested that the lights be dimmed even
further. My heart sank!
Sometimes my tunnel vision does make me appear a little insensitive.
I also take every failure personally. At the time I didn’t
understand why Ms Ndegéocello seemed to be jeopardising my
quest. Of course she had no such thought. Today I believe I have
a greater ability to step back and accept that I cannot control
everything. I also understand that musicians are ‘human’
and have their own vulnerabilities and strengths which make them
who they are.
© Michael Valentine Studio Ltd.