From singer and rapper to prolific songwriter, Meshell Ndegeocello brings an eclectic style of music to the table every time. She has received 10 Grammy nominations and has made 10 albums throughout the years.
Her duet with John Mellencamp, "Wild Night," brought her national attention, along with her own song "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)." She has worked on a variety of soundtracks, from Love Jones to Lost & Delirious.
Her latest album, Pour une Ame Souveraine (or For a Foreign Soul) is a Nina Simone covers album following up last year's Weather.
Her contributions to AIDS organizations such as the Red Hot Organization and, now, with Howard Brown (with its Sept. 14 "Garden of Eve" event) have helped the LGBT community while entertaining at the same time.
Nunn talked to her as she prepared to visit Chicago again.
Windy City Times: Hi, Meshell. You are coming back to Chi-town.
Meshell Ndegeocello: Yes, and I am excited about the cause. I am always excited when there is a place where people can get health care for free. Of course I love Chicago, too.
WCT: You have been in the music business for a long time.
Meshell Ndegeocello: It has been 20 years if I counted.
WCT: The biz has evolved so much.
Meshell Ndegeocello: Notechnology has, but the business hasn't really changed. There is always somebody trying to get someone else to pay for their art and there is always someone trying to make money off somebody. That never changes.
WCT: I read you have had 10 Grammy nominations.
Meshell Ndegeocello: I have. I just haven't talked to the right people so I haven't won one yet.
WCT: This latest album, Pour une Ame Souveraine, might win it for you.
Meshell Ndegeocello: Thank you but thank Nina Simone, oh my gosh.
WCT: Have you always enjoyed her music?
Meshell Ndegeocello: I didn't get into it until later in life, when I was about 23 and living in New York with a friend of mine. I wish I had grown up with amazing music like that. She is someone I have had an awesome admiration for.
WCT: You worked with other artists on these tracks, like Sinead O'Connor.
Meshell Ndegeocello: She is incredible. She's a big fan, too. I feel like everyone should be singing Sinead's praises. Her ability to captivate you with a song is something I have always loved about her.
Lizz Wright is my unsung hero. I love her. Toshi Reagon I grew up with. She is one my main and first mentors. The Cody ChestnuTT song is probably my favorite track on the whole recording. He's amazing. He's a very different kind of brother. I feel humble just being on the same recording with all of them.
WCT: How were connected to them? Through the various music labels?
Meshell Ndegeocello: I went to go meet Valerie June. I had only heard an mp3 and just fell in love with it. I wanted to find the voice and I went to one of her shows at South By Southwest. I met her after her performance. That was a highlight for me because it is great when just their voice enchants youthen you meet them and everything is about them is incredible. She might even open up one of my shows.
I had tried to get D'Angelo but he was too busy and my publicist, who I will thank forever, suggested Cody ChestnuTT. I wish I had thought of it because it is freakin' brilliant. He does so much for the song. When I sang it the song was very dire and dark. "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" has nothing to do with race but about being young and trying to find your place in the world. I really felt he brought that across.
WCT: How did you pick out what songs to put on the album?
Meshell Ndegeocello: I just picked my favorite out of the play list. If it were up to me, it would be three volumes. You could just go on and on. These are the ones that I thought I could do justice to.
WCT: I know you have performed at the Old School of Folk Music several times. Could you possibly bring the tour there?
Meshell Ndegeocello: I want to bring this Nina Simone project out with a full band. I just have to find the right venue to play in.
WCT: I know you have a new single with Miguel Migs called "Tonight."
Meshell Ndegeocello: I worked with him a couple of months ago. He's a strange dude but I love him. He's so mellow that it's scary.
WCT: You did a tribute album for Fela. Did you see the musical Fela?
Meshell Ndegeocello: Yes. My friend is in it. That musical is incredible. I wish it had stayed around longer. There is a lot of theater in Chicago, right?
WCT: Yes, Broadway in Chicago as well as tons of theater companies.
Meshell Ndegeocello: I loved Book of Mormon, too.
WCT: That's coming. I am jealous you already saw it.
Meshell Ndegeocello: I love the theater. That is the gayest part of me!
WCT: Would you want to make a musical?
Meshell Ndegeocello: I am working on one in my mind. I just have to put it together.
WCT: What will your performance be like for "Garden of Eve?"
Meshell Ndegeocello: It will be acoustic. I will just come across as a singer/songwriter and tell some stories. Hopefully people will give their hard-earned cash to a good cause.
WCT: Speaking of good causes, I read your work for the "It Gets Better" project with Dan Savage.
Meshell Ndegeocello: A lot people like to hide out and not talk about things. I love that he is just in your face with his ideas and wants to dialogue with people. I am glad he is on the planet.
Look for Meshell on our part of the planet during the "Garden of Eve" annual fundraiser to benefit Howard Brown Health Center Friday, Sept. 14, River East Art Center, 435 E. Illinois St., at 7 p.m. Visit www.howardbrown.org for tickets, including a VIP reception with gay foodie Ted Allen.