By Andrea Plaid
It’s Pride Month, and I want to kick it off by feting a queer Black woman who’s a truly underappreciated musical genius: Meshell Ndegeocello.
Where can I even start? I’ve loved Ndegeocello, who self-identifies as bisexual, since her Grammy-nominated debut album Plantation Lullabyes back in 1993, when Madonna signed the multi-instrumentalist and singer to her Maverick record label. Between her bass playing (she tried out for the band Living Colour back in 1992 but didn’t get the gig, though she was a part of the Black Rock Coalition co-founded by the band’s guitarist, Vernon Reid), her come-to-me smoky voice, her gender-bending outfits, and (at the time) bald head, I swoonily followed her through her musical universe as she had some shooting-star hits, like her cut “Wild Night” with John Cougar Mellencamp and “If That Was Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night),”
but more interestingly, the constellation of collaborations and genres she traversed as she tries to navigate the nexus of love and spirituality and sexuality, like this gorgeous same-gender loving song, “Mary Magdalene,” from her second album Peace Beyond Passion,
and “Aquarium” (featuring The Brazilian Girls’ Sabina Sciubba and Didi Gutman and jazz musician Ron Blake from The Spirit Music Jamia: The Dance Of The Infidel)
as love, sexuality, and spirituality collide with systemic oppression, as in “Leviticus: F****t” from Peace Beyond Passion (TRIGGER WARNING: Homophobic violence):
Her own beyond-definition music–people have called her the female version of Prince and she herself has stated that he’s one of her greatest influences–has led her to appearing on albums as diverse as the Rolling Stones, Alanis Morrissette, Chaka Khan (for which she and Khan received a Grammy nod in 1997), Zap Mama, and The Blind Boys of Alabama. She has also played at the all-women musical tour Lillith Fair and the H.O.R.D.E. tour. She’s also contributed music to the Red Hot series, the albums to help raise funds and awareness to help end HIV/AIDS (specifically Red Hot + Riot and Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool), and to Downtown Records’ now-unavailable Raise Hope For Congo, a compilation record to help raise funds for “protecting and empowering Congolese women in light of the war-related mass sexual violence in the nation. And her genre-mixing is cited as creating the afro-boho universe called the neo-soul movement.
And, whatever else I feel about sex columnist Dan Savage (which involves a lot of direct laser side-eye about his racial and gender politics), this musical goddess lent her writing to his anthology It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, And Creating A Life Worth Living.
I can wax on about the Berlin, Germany-born, Howard University-educated artist and mother. But I’m going to end with my all-time favorite cut: Lalah Hathaway’s and her can’t-touch-it perfect rendition of “When Did You Leave Heaven?”